You could be forgiven for thinking that The Decorator and The Thief (…) is the title of a theatrical production, a period crime drama, or a film (perhaps a thriller) produced in black and white (circa 1935). Such a rich title can suggest different things to different people. For example, one may think it the work of someone who wants to Steal like an Artist (aka Austin Kleon) or it could refer to a blatant act of plagiarism, that a decorator may have attempted to replicate the design of another, and then pass it off as his or her own. Several high profile cases spring to mind. So what is The Decorator and The Thief all about?
On entering the NGCA main gallery we are greeted by a beautifully crafted and colourful rug, collaged from off cuts of carpet. Taking centre stage, it is a feast for the senses. Jacqui Poncelet’s ‘Carpet’ (1992) is, to all intents and purposes, a painting in the expanded field. It is also an elegant design solution and one which steals the show. Elsewhere on video, Susie Green is in conversation with a curator discussing her practice and how she transforms her paintings into designs for silk scarves. In Yelena Popova’s video ‘Line Painting’ (2014) we are observers of an unidentified municipal labourer who meticulously and repeatedly paints a yellow line onto a road surface. Juxtaposed on another screen, a window cleaner glides a squeegee over a plate glass window, fashioning an infinity symbol within the soap suds. It’s hypnotic to watch.
George Vasey, curator of The Decorator and The Thief (…) at NGCA references an essay by Donald Judd, ‘It’s Hard to find a Good Lamp’ (1993). Written as a response to the challenge of designing furniture, from the aspect of how we value form and function, and what takes precedence. In the text Judd questions where and how art and design meet, and where function and form collide. In turn The Decorator and The Thief (…), through its dual dimension of selected works from the Arts Council Collection, curated alongside carefully selected work by artists and designers, raises questions of where and how we place value with regard to ideas, judgement, collecting and collections.
Wallpaper has a long literary association with deception and illusion, and with the rejection of tradition and integrity. It is here that the ‘decorator’ enters into the frame. Design agency CommonRoom were commissioned to create artist designed wall papers for installation throughout the show. To some, wallpaper stands for a decline in values, yet for others it represents the height of social standing. When we use it, we make a statement about our personal taste, and the depth of our purse. In turning to design, does an artist risk his or her credibility? Can wallpaper be classed as an artistic medium in its own right? Take for example ‘Be Yourself or Something Else’ (2014) by Kate Hawkins, which covers a wall onto which a single painting is also displayed. Which should take precedence? The painting or the paper? Which should we value more and why? The Decorator and The Thief (…) asks us to consider the importance of collecting, and how issues of taste, and judgement are shaped by our beliefs.
The Decorator and The Thief (…) is curated across a split site with additional representation at the Priestman Gallery, Sunderland University and curated by Sebastian Trend (of NGC) and George Vasey (NGCA). Participants include Keith Arnatt, Claire Barclay, Angela Bulloch, CommonRoom, Peter Davies, Michael Fischer, Leo Fitzmaurice, Barry Flanagan, Ian Giles, Susie Green, Kate Liston, Margaret Mellis, Fay Nicolson, Jacqui Poncelet, Yelena Popova, Giorgio Sadotti, and Jackson Sprague.
The Decorator and The Thief (…), NGCA, Sunderland
30 January – 16 May 2015
Norma Kyle is an artist and curator based in the Tees Valley.