In this year's summer show at London's Royal Academy of Arts, "Exhibit 1201" is a large rectangular tablet of slate with a tiny barbell-shaped bit of boxwood on top. Its creator, David Hensel, must be pleased to have been selected from among some 9,000 applicants for the world's largest open-submission exhibit of contemporary art. Nevertheless, he was bemused to discover that in transit his sculpture had gotten separated from its base. Judging the two components as different submissions, the Royal Academy had rejected his artwork proper--a finely wrought laughing head in jesmonite--and selected the plinth. "It says something about the state of visual arts today," said Mr. Hensel. He didn't say what. He didn't need to.
Moreover, the Royal Academy denies having made an error, for the plinth and hastily carved wooden support were, according to an official statement, "thought to have merit."
For those who despair that artists these days seem to have lost the skill of fashioning meticulously crafted objects, don't blame Mr. Hensel. While the slate base took only four hours to hack from a mortuary slab, and the little boxwood prop less than an hour, he had painstakingly carved and polished that laughing head for two months. But alas, the sculpture itself has--shudder--emotional content. It was originally christened "One Day Closer to Paradise," a far too expressive title; Mr. Hensel would have been better off with the portentously enigmatic "Exhibit 1201." His laughing head is not only fatally well rendered, but exudes a sense of joy and hilarity, and the overtly evocative is declassé. How much more sophisticated, a stoic square of slate that speaks of--well, ask the viewers.
And there's more...