Michael Armitage and Contemporary Art Even You Will Like
Why Contemporary Art Annoys You
The first thing I should probably reveal about myself, if I were to try my best and keep certain credibility, is that I am writing as an arts layperson. Whilst I have always been candidly partial to modern art, I have, hitherto, struggled to get along with its contemporary sibling.
What makes contemporary art seem so intellectually elitarian?
The feelings we are used to — and want to — experience in front of publicly praised art are rather a mix of astonishment, admiration and, why not, a dash of good old eye pleasure. We need something accessible yet complex enough to hush up our inner, impertinent know-it-all little voice.
What is so odd about controversial art like Cattelan’s Comedian (aka the banana taped to the wall) is that it doesn’t reveal any discernible technical superiority nor particularly high levels of aesthetics, let alone social engagement.
Our just and meritocratic temper refuses to accept that fame and recognition can be awarded to someone so untalented and undeserving, someone who could have been just YOU.
How To Make Peace With It
Self-education and research got me (almost) through this skeptical and rebellious phase of my thought. If you are still stuck there, you should give yourself time and let Michael Armitage take your hand and walk you through his colourful thought-provoking paintings.
The 36-year-old London-based, Kenyan-born artist is intriguing, eclectic, and unpretentiously sophisticated while he pursues the ambition to raise social and political concerns about his native land.
I attended his ‘Paradise Edict’ currently exhibited at Haus der Kunst in Munich.
He paints with oil on Lubugo barkcloth, which translates to ‘funeral cloth’ as its prime use can be traced back to burial material.
A non-expert might connect African art to tribal-ish representations dominated by earthy color palettes. In opposition to that assumption, his paintings render — sometimes rough — East African stories through a quite clearly European-shaped hand.
‘His paintings render — sometimes rough — East African stories through a quite clearly European-shaped hand.’
Armitage has in fact acknowledged Western masters like Gauguin, Goya, and Manet as important points of reference for his work. What makes this young artist so fascinating is how his eclectic multicultural background is reflected in his oeuvre.
He educates the audience about Kenya’s politics, social inequalities, and violence, nevertheless making use of everything but a dull palette to convey his motives.
His socially and politically provocative work reassures us to be making something good out of our Sunday but does not weigh us down, somewhat pleasing and captivating our eye.
Nothing in Armitage’s work is trivial or predictable.
The barkcloth sometimes presents natural irregularities and holes, leaving you to wonder whether they are accessory to the story or not.
The British-Kenyan painter is your perfect entrée to contemporary art, far from merely conceptual works and loaded with skill.
What You Should Do Next
Stop referring to Contemporary Art as the conspiracy of a bunch of avid pranksters and go discover the work of Armitage and other artists like Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Cecily Brown, and Jenny Saville just to name a few.
And if you are going to the museum, leave that huge handbag home. If I know you well enough you aren’t too keen on paying an additional 2€ on cloakroom fees.