Stop-n-shop school of aesthetic martial arts
Business Art is a much better thing to be making than Art Art, because Art Art doesn’t support the space it takes up, whereas Business Art does. -Andy Warhol
It is a commonly noted and media-worn erratum of the recent Dhakaites’ reception of Nirmalendu Goon that it unfolds under the heading of “poet’s artwork”! Goon, an iconic relic from the late 60’s– here, I am recalling Al Mahmud who once proclaimed, 60’s is represented, in Bangladeshis’ mind, by three cuckold poets: Mohammad Rafique, Rafique Azad and Nirmalendu Goon– always threatens to amount to the poetic invention of a hugely popular faux-Leninist micro narrative conveyed in a language that inflicted the 70’s like a diaorrhea epidemic– has famously been agent to a vast assortment of middling, but curious, cultural merchandises. I think, this point relates to my appreciation and concern about Goon’s recent exhibition, a true ‘public art event’.
Goon, always a canny marketing man and a genius self-promoter in the vein of Dali, right off breaks away from the persistently naïve recognition of Gallery or artistic field, to dispatch a trope much favoured by Pierre Bourdieu, as the sole context of art or a location of artistic legitimacy by staging his exhibition-event at the public library.
Arranging to display his 31 paintings– 25 of which were purchased by socialites like Aly Zaker, Nasir Uddin Yousuff Bachchu, Tareque Sujat, Faridur Reza Sagar, Nasir Ali Mamun, Anisul Haque et al,– at a politically, and magically, significant venue affords a new model in curatorial practice in Dhaka, as it also corresponds to some of the hottest issues relevant to the Postmodern debate: the role and efficacy of outreach for public relations, but most importantly, it marks a significant moment in the continually evolving and shifting mood of a vital, urbane populace not usually served by museums and galleries.
In addition to the site-specific advantages, Goon’s painting exposition was inaugurated by one of the national literati Kabir Choudhury, and a major photographer Nasir Ali Mamun, Madrid-based artist Monirul Islam and art critique Mainuddin Khaled, and a magnitude of minor celebrities and critiques among others who participated in canonising him. But, Goon usurped any hold the republic of letters, perhaps, could have had on his “success” as an artist by refusing it to grant power to decide who can produce art and their value and positioned his project directly, intensively and specifically in appreciating client-communities, offering his audience a shared authority and a voice in the ‘creation’ of his ‘artworks’. The audience had, in turn, a field day in filling out a “comments book”, in the first two days of the exhibition. All the pages of the second “comments book” also got used up the next day. Goon promptly arranged to publish hundreds of these comments– and the photographs of all his paintings– on the Eid issue of a national magazine.
On a slightly different register, Goon’s art practice occupies maintenance of adequate technique, certain clichéd emblems of Bangladeshi abstract art and a pretty marketable artistic identity; but some of his works– including a few awesomely superb painting rather plainly named Mukhosh 3, Mukhosh 2, Opekhkha, Sidr, Alakananda, Kobi , Ananda Bandhani– employ a kind of aesthetic martial arts: Goon uses the power of the medium against themselves by often creating a collision of styles, or by placing strategic texts and/or figurative signifiers in a typically flat, abstract tableau a la Kitaj or Hockney– initiating a trace of a narrative.
Conceptually, Goon seems too naïve to effectually harness and detourne the elements he employ, to reveal critical insights or new frames of experience. However, he does create open systems as an expression of releasing a libidinal charge that he used to disguise as revolutionary desire in his poetry.
Nirmalendu Goon, not unlike Artaud, paints with his body. The shards of his erotic body consistently penetrate through to the surface of his canvas.. By initiating what Barthes referred to as the “rhetoric of the signified” and by reclaiming Eros– in the middle of a social space, in the rhythm of the everyday– Goon’s erotic body galvanizes his client-communities in a body politic. This body politic -- one that merges Goon’s body with his clients’ – effected by the same power-source, imagines the currency of Goon’s art works and generates the meaning of the event .
By premising art not on ritual or politics, but on economics, and by the act of juxtaposing the signified aspect of what Andy Warhol calls Business Art against the context of public space, Goon performed a semantic fission and, in effect, challenged the structure of Bangladeshi art’s epistemology.
Young artists, are you taking notice?
The exhibition took place in the seminar of the Public Library, Dhaka, from 25 to 30 July 2009.