“What Would Neil Young Do?”

October 24, 2006 | By admin | Creative

The Frieze Art Fair was on in London last week and I spent an afternoon with Faye Dowling, one of the curators of New Photographers 2007, looking around the hastily constructed art tent in London’s Regents Park. It’s amazingly chaotic and diverse and utterly free from ceremony, the fact that it is like a cattle market is quite refreshing. It’s not a place to quietly contemplate art. It’s more like having an art gallery in Bloomingdales or Harrods on Christmas Eve.

Saw some great photography by Joel Sternfeld and Thomas Struth. Overall, some of the art was brilliantly unexpected, some of it made you laugh with it, and some of it just looked as sad as a lost puppy.

lost puppy andre sperling.jpg
(Photographer Andrea Sperling, not in the Art Fair!)

In this visually noisy environment it’s the boldest art, the art with attitude that stands out. And exactly like advertsing, the work that gets your attention is not necessarily the art that shouts the loudest. On my way out, I saw a pile of posters on the floor of the space occupied by Glasgow’s Modern Institute.

Neil young.jpg
(by Jeremy Deller)

I knew what Neil Young would do. I chanced my arm with the gallerist, “ that looks like a Jeremy Deller?” and indeed it was, and he gave me a poster.

Jeremy Deller is a bit like an impresario of ‘folk-art’. He collaborates with non-professional artists and re-presents other people’s work and experiences as video documents or events. In a sense he works with ‘found-art’. For his poster work he generally picks lyrics from bands, and his talent, like a great copywriter, is in choosing phrases that are so natural, that they have a zen-like quality. It’s not just that they stick in your mind they are mini-philosophies of life, like “just do it”.

“What would Neil Young do?” has that well-meaning, all-purpose flexibility that straplines like “think different” have. Its tone is a mix of the cheeky and the high-minded, serious but also a little wry.

After six hours of wandering around the Art Fair on the way home on a packed Underground train, an empty seat appeared.

undergound Herb Schmitz.jpg(Photograph Herb Schmitz)

I gestured to a woman with a handful of bags standing up beside it to sit down. She shook her head. I gestured again, she said “no thanks” so I sat down, wondering whether I should really have insisted, whether she was just being polite, and I’m sure it sounds daft, but in my self-conscious embarrassment I couldn’t help thinking, “What Would Neil Young Do?”

It’s such a great piece of copy, the ultimate strapline, a reflective version of “just do it”, equally applicable to all situations. What do you think?

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  • http://www.calderoriginals.com/cord.html Nick Comer-Calder

    I like the way you describe the WWNYD? phrase. I was given the poster by my lovely artist friend Ansel Krut.

    I laughed when I first saw the poster because I recalled Neil Young telling his biographer James Mcdonough that when he was young he used to ask himself “…what would Bob Dylan do?…”

    Ansel’s take was that Jeremy Deller was playing with the common US bumper sticker ‘What would Jesus do?”

    I prefer to think that Deller is a Neil fan, has read the Bob Dylan story, has heard Neil’s trenchant ‘Living With War’ album and has conflated all the above with the Jesus bumper sticker thing.

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