In Praise of Matthew Collings

I was going to do a snide blog mocking the letter from the editor in a recent issue of ArtForum. I had the witticisms all lined up about it being a glistening slab of whale blubber that flops into my PO box every month, fat as a tick on the blood of sad, desperate galleries and artists who will pay anything, anything to get a full page ad in there, even if the work is shit and who cares anyway, and meanwhile the people behind it are wringing their hands about being part of the corrupting commercialism in the art world, but maybe that’s cool anyway, since commercialism is art nowadays (original), so they just hold their noses all the way to the bank…

But I think I’d rather be positive and talk about Matthew Collings.

I got lucky recently and stumbled into a subscription to Modern Painters (thank you Rachel Cook!), and in the two issues I’ve received have become an insta-fan of Collings, who does a regular column at the front of the book. (Yes, Collings is already super-famous as a Turner Prize critic, among other things, and I’m late to the game in finding his musings compelling.)


His Modern Painters column really is very good, both in that good-for-me spinach-ey kind of way, but also in that junky, Sudoku kind of way. 

In the current issue, Collings basically says that the paintings of Gary Wragg (who?) are better than those of his former student and 11 million dollar man Peter Doig (whose paintings — if you need the reminder — are, according to Wikipedia, “among Europe’s most expensive”).

The magazine graciously reproduces two large images of paintings by each artist, so you can compare and contrast.

I admit to glancing at the pictures and disliking Wragg’s work before I even read the piece, and liking Doig’s stuff, before realizing it was his work.  Collings suggests that such predictable reactions are the result of a taste that’s been shaped by the fashions of the art world, and that the opportunity for chaos in Wragg’s more colorful, abstract and expressionistic paintings is better than Doig’s dreamy figures and landscapes executed in a tasteful, muted colorway. I’m paraphrasing.

Here was my train of thought upon reading this:

1.    “My God, he’s right. I have been blinded by the collective, brainless art world. I am in lockstep with people I thought were The Other.”

2.    “Wait a minute. These Wragg paintings are weak, and even a gifted writer taking the unique tack of praising them over the hyper-hyped Doig isn’t going to strengthen them.”

3.    “Hm. Maybe I don’t like either of these guys’ work. Maybe this is all a lot of high falutin’ nonsense about work that doesn’t deserve attention to begin with…<gasp> like ArtForum!!!

I haven’t resolved what I think about Collings’ krazy unorthodoxy. The point is, I’m still thinking about it.

also by Rainey Knudson

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3 responses to “In Praise of Matthew Collings”

  1. I like the trajectory of his development. His early rep was built translating the glitz and slime of the YBA era both up and down; hence he can now smell a con ten miles off. He cuts through Sensational bullshit with adamantine precision. He takes no prisoners. I don’t always agree with him – but like you, when I don’t, I’m left sincerely questioning why.
    He’s famous in London in a way no art person ever could be in the US – TV shows and whatnot. I got to have cocktails with him once. He is very nice – though behind the wry smile, you get the sense that there is running Collings commentary going on in his bean, sizing you up…which is funny, as that sounds like something Collings would write about meeting some other art world figure…

  2. Yeah, it’s funny to be introduced to him via his Modern Painters column, which I imagined as being written by someone older and far more tweedy. I would never have guessed he was so… hip. I’m exposing my ignorance, I know, but if there are GT readers out there who, like me, have never heard of him (or at least don’t remember having done), I’d encourage them to check him out.

  3. I like him.

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