Because of the way the art world has developed, anything that could possibly be hung on a domestic wall has come to be considered, at best, middlebrow. Ambitious young artists can be observed doing everything to avoid this description. Their work is very large, conceptual, in video or in other forms that preclude the pin and hook or picture rail display. Their work can be very expensive, suggesting that they hope to be bought by a public gallery or a rich collector. In this they are likely to be disappointed. Both the galleries and the seriously affluent are autograph collectors. Somehow the artist has to achieve sufficient publicity first to justify the signature.
I had these thoughts when viewing a work in Edinburgh Printmakers winter exhibition, No Fixed Abode. The show is the result of collaboration between the artists and the Big Issue editor and sellers. The work in question is Mark Doyle’s piece consisting of four hot water bottles cast in concrete. To my mind this is by far the best exhibit. It is entitled Home is where the Hot Water is, and certainly makes you think of the miseries of homelessness when you are having your routine hot shower each morning, and even if you are skimping on the central heating, you can look forward to a warm bed. The exhibition on the whole is rather thin and it must have pleased the organisers to have one exhibit which so neatly and ingeniously encapsulates the theme.
The work is modestly priced at £250, but with its wit and form it keeps on the right side of the dreaded middlebrow, bourgeois division. While not technically a print, it is a multiple and if Doyle sold out his edition of ten, after he had paid commission and VAT, he might be able to live for a month on the proceeds without involving the filthy- rich, bonus-bloated bankers and the like, who young artists tending to be on the left are apt to dislike. But he is probably unlikely to do so because of the domestic hanging problem, not insoluble for this work but which would require some work on the average plaster or plasterboard wall.
Faced with this situation what can young artists do? Traditional printmaking techniques could be one solution. Depending on content, prints might more easily escape the middlebrow grading than paintings. Doyle, for instance could create a screen-printed version of his work uniting the images with the title, which gives the concept its full impact and run off a large edition. There would be no loss of integrity in doing so. A very good precedent was set by that iconic modernist Marcel Duchamp who made small, more manageable versions of his major works, The Fountain, Large Glass et al, to fit into a box. He made a small number to start with but stated that he was willing to produce more if there was a demand.
Alternatively, young artists could shun any compromise with the domestic wall and go on producing works of wit and inventiveness while drastically increasing prices and size. They might be able to create the sort of publicity that will lead eventually to public galleries buying their work and things might snowball. They will not, most likely, be able to store all the lead up work but need not worry. No doubt some enterprising dealer will spot an opportunity to recreate multiples of destroyed pieces, just as happed with Duchamp’s urinal, which the artist tossed out. Or does history ever quite repeat itself?