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Report from London on the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from below

By JOSEPH NECHVATAL, JUN. 2016

On the same day, following the Brexit vote, that the British pound plummeted, the world's tallest and longest (178 metres) curly-wurly tunnel slide, designed by Carsten Höller, opened at the Boris Johnson commissioned public art sculpture: ArcelorMittal Orbit. Located at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, ArcelorMittal Orbit was designed as UK’s tallest sculpture (114.5m high) by Turner-Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor (along with Cecil Balmond of engineering Group Arup). ArcelorMittal Orbit’s adaptation into a fun fair ride is only the latest example of high art plummeting into banal mass entertainment (much to the dismay of Kapoor). It is yet another example of contemporary art’s lost commitment to the idea that fine art is that which purports to transcend the economic world and portray a wider vision of political awareness (inclusive of private spiritual, ecstatic or magical themes) accessible through the subjective realm of each individual.  

Landscape view of the ArcelorMittal Orbit and Olympic Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit, June 2016

Höller came to prominence in the 1990s alongside a group of relational aesthetics artists — including Philippe Parreno, Pierre Huyghe, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Andrea Zittel — who worked across disciplines to reimagine the experience and the space of art. Reimagined, as pop ethos, it has been. As British critic and art historian Julian Stallabrass has written in his lean, mean book Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press), behind contemporary art’s ideas of multiplicity and apparent capriciousness lies a drive for bleak pop uniformity that amounts to making culture uncurious, timid and stupid in the service of a big-business ethos of unquestioning consumer conformity. Stallabrass purports that art has been leaning further and further into an enthusiastic participation in the dumbing-down values useful to big business; values which address all art communications to the lowest common denominator. This in the name of "democratizing" art.

But when, as I did, you can already sit as long as you like on a leather couch across from Diego Velázquez’s “Toilet of Venus” (The Rokeby Venus) (circa 1647-51) for free at the National Gallery, does the 15 pounds (over $20) for a 40 second, unintelligent ride down the tube at 15 miles per hour seem like a “democratic” non-elitist art prospect to you? WM


Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an artist whose computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. In 2011 his book Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office in conjunction with the Open Humanities Press. He exhibited in Noise, a show based on his book, as part of the Venice Biennale 55, and is artistic director of the Minóy Punctum Book/CD project.

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