Technique anglaise: Current trends in British art

A useful, market-serving guide to thirty young British artists

This book brings together documentation on almost thirty young British artists who have been variously described as post neo-conceptual and minimal—a reaction against the preeminence of the likes of Schnabel in the early 1980s and a response to Haim Steinbach and similar New York artists through the latter half of the decade. Each artist has six pages of photographs with which to present their work along with biographical notes.

This documentary material follows a stagey discussion between the editors, two dealers (Karsten Schubert and Maureen Paley), the critic Lynne Cooke and the teacher William Furlong. Certainly the right references to the past are made and the book is both pleasingly monochrome and functional (extending to the wipe-clean cover) and yet the knowing cynicism of much of the “discussion”, the importance given to the “shift in ambition” of artists as well as the concern with the marketplace and the scene (the two being indistinguishable here) is at odds with the character of shows such as “Op Losse Schroeven” or “When Attitudes Become Form” which provided a bench mark for a particular conceptual approach to art after 1969 and that–Bruce McLean excepted–had little to do with parody. It seems on balance implausible that a concern with the parodic nature of art-practice is the common thread that connects the artists presented here. The self-referential facticity of a minimalist concern for the “specific object” is largely exchanged in favour of using the form and disposition of objects. The dumb and seamless surfaces are manipulated and transformed in such a way that meaning operates far beyond a sheer concern with appearances. The object as a thing in itself becomes not an end in itself but a tool with which to excavate meaning.

Technique Anglaise serves as a very useful guide to what has been happening in the last few years and to what could be happening soon, and provides another example of the stress given by these artists to the strategies of making their “shift in ambition” a reality: their own creation of large shows in the Saatchi scale of vision accompanied by catalogues which feel like reports to the shareholders.

Things are less predictable following the recession, and although a guide now, it could become a history book: in a telling moment in the discussion Gillick relates how he saw “a book of the McAlpine Collection, with all those English artists, and I’d only heard of a few of them. It was a complete mystery to me how this had been allowed to happen”.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Technique anglaise today'