Newport’s Gentleman’s ‘Art’ Club…

Perhaps a little late to this story, but still well worth a mention, Newport Museum and Art Gallery revealed it’s saucier side in a recent temporary exhibition entitled: ‘The Institute of Mental Health is Burning’. For anyone who has not yet sampled the Art Galleries most recent offerings, the opportunity to do so is there for another few weeks, the exhibition running through to the start of December, but be warned, those of a nervous disposition, those easily offended, and frankly, anyone under the age of 18, you may do well to give this one a miss.

The local museum fraternity in Wales is under as much pressure as anywhere else in the UK, as budgets are cut, and the demand to justify their existence becomes almost a daily battle. Perhaps it was with this in mind that the museum invited Neil McNally to enter the museum domain, and set about his curation of this temporary monstrosity, that in order to ensure the relevance of the local museum and gallery, the only way forward was to be as controversial as possible.

Well, perhaps that’s being too harsh, it could have been more controversial I suppose. They could have removed all the walls, and daubed the words ‘Hitler – What a Guy’ in blood red letters over an oil painting of the Berlin Olympics opening ceremony…that would have been more controversial I suppose, but not by much. For anyone who has missed for hoo-hah, the main controversy surrounds what simply amounts to a series of hardcore pornographic paintings. Close up snap shots of paintings they might be, and you don’t have to squint your eyes to make out the very clear and brazen content of the selected works. While not speaking for entire exhibition, much of which is hung around the most derivative of installation works which looks more akin to half unpacked student waste than it does a work of art fit to grace the company of Lowri, the saucy images do stand out as particularly obscure or poorly, depending on your perspective, chosen works.

With little to speak of in terms of artistic merit, this element of the collection really amounts to little more than sensationalist titillation of the basest nature. Really, the Art Gallery may as well have installed a collage of genitalia clipped from a Hustler magazine, and it would stand to make as valid a contribution to the art world as these offerings. But perhaps in these harsh economic times, this is how Newport’s Art Community wish to ensure their relevance. In time the title ‘Art Gallery’ might make way for ‘Gentleman’s Club’, where the lighting around these three works will be turned down, so gentlemen voyeurs may ‘enjoy’ the Galleries best offerings in privacy…

Really, contemporary art has an important place in Wales, but is outright pornography something that we want to encourage when presenting the best offerings from the Welsh artistic community? We can offer more, and ‘Newport Museum and Gentleman’s Club’ can certainly offer more from its vast holdings than this trash – buck up your ideas Newport, and take this installation where it belongs, out back and in the bin, for that is the very best this waste deserves.

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