The 2006 Summer Exhibition controversy came about when my sculpture “One Day Closer to Paradise” became separated from it’s base in storage and the empty plinth was bizarrely selected by the judges and displayed as a sculpture in the exhibition. I informed them of the mistake at the preview, but they insisted they couldn’t change it as the opinion of the famous artists who had made the selections was more important than the artist’s intentions.
The story got into the papers internationally, and the Royal Academy even issued a press release falsely insisting that the two parts had been sent in as separate submissions. The event caused hilarity internationally and prompted much worthwhile and revealing discussion about art.
The empty plinth was eventually auctioned by The Times newspaper, and the missing sculpture (by then found) was also sold.
I came up with 3 pieces of work to submit this year in response, and one of them, the sculpture “Bad Dog” was selected for exhibition in the 2007 Summer Exhibition.
This sculpture consists of a repeat of the stone plinth with the bone-shaped wooden support, now gilded, and an abstract magenta dog. Last year’s display had the plinth placed next to someone else’s bronze dog sculpture so my piece looked like a bone on a plate. I’ve placed my dog on the new plinth, securely bolted on, facing away from the bone (or whatever it appears to be…!). It has a golden harness so it’s a guide dog, but with no eyes it is itself blind. It could be a child’s toy. (The suggested theme of the exhibition for the year was Light.)
The thinking behind this is that in a way art is always about blindness.
The sculpture is mentioned in the RA’s website page about the Summer Exhibition, Gallery V: “….David Hensel’s Bad Dog, a sardonic comment on the fate of another sculpture by the same artist in last year’s exhibition. Inexplicably, only the plinth was shown, to the amusement of the tabloid press.”
There are many kinds and applications of art, encompassing our entire range of efforts to activate our senses and to influence each other, but there’s an important distinction between art skills employed in the real world to generate invisible influence, to distract or un-nerve us while we adopt images and stories that make us believe differently (advertising and spin), and art intended to awaken and restore sensibility: art is thus about the creation or the puncturing of blind-spots, about the staged cultural battle between these factions, with culture being defined as the quality of the place where we live.
Watching last year’s performance about the empty plinth, it seemed that many people saw it as evidence of blindness, lack of discernment, a consequence of degraded education, commercial bias and the power of the art market, but one can look at what goes on in the arts as theatre and see that the entire art world is a cultural performance in its own right, a parody of attitudes and consequences prevalent in the real world. It’s as if we are all, as audience or participants, creating an automatic self-scripted pantomime about ourselves and our varying degrees of awareness.
My response to discovering my missing sculpture last year, to the presentation of a meaningless slab of stone as a piece of art, was a sense that this was perfect and should be made public, because that is what artists are supposed to do: to entertain us while telling stories about our strengths and our weaknesses. The world wide audience loved it, roared with laughter (which does go well with the image in the missing sculpture). I assumed my name would be mud, but having this accepted restores hope, another scene in the pantomime…
They only accepted the blind guide dog, unfortunately.
The 2 rejected works are these:
“Just One Line”, a pencil drawing, 76 x 56 cms in a nice gold frame.
It’s a design for a trophy for an Art Critic of the Year Award.
Just One Line is how I drew it and how critics exercise their power.
“Visual Aids”, a mixed media sculpture, 2 metres high. It’s a supply of white sticks. I wanted it by the door as you go in. The gaudy colouring relates to blindness, as do the glued-in white sticks. Or maybe the laughing mouth refers to my last year’s missing sculpture which was anyway about blindness in a different way, some people’s ridiculous pursuit of paradise. The small sculpture tied on the back is a virgin shaped car bomb cloud, a sculpture for them to test the sticks on.