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The Language of High Art

Deepanjana Pal discovers a new app that decodes the mystifying gobbledygook that comprises most curatorial notes in our biggest art exhibitions.

DEEPANJANA PAL  1st Apr 2012

Illustration by Dev Kabir Malik Design

t's the newest innovation in the world of art, and everyone who has ever entered an art gallery is chattering about it. The QR code, so far seen only in mysterious and largely-incomprehensible advertising strategy, is being touted as the cipher for one of the most complex codes in our society: the wall text. For the uninitiated, the wall text is a passage that is usually be seen upon a wall soon after entering a gallery. It is supposed to introduce the show to the viewer and is called wall text because it comprises text and is on a wall. Frequently, this is the only simple aspect of wall text, which is known to inspire reactions as varied as admiration to abject fear. Some point quivering fingers to wall text as the reason they don't enter galleries. Others confess that they spend more time deciphering the meaning of the wall text and less on the show itself. Whichever group you belong to, have no fear; the QR code is here. Take your smartphone, scan the code and hey presto! The nifty app, Arty or Farty, categorises you as either Artist, Critic, Curator, Gallerist, Aficionado, Collector or Random Visitor on the basis of a quick questionnaire, and then translates the wall text into a language matching your category. The best part about this app is that once you understand wall text, chances are the reviews of art shows will make sense as well (since similar language is used in both). Don't take our word for it. See for yourself.

The Wall Text:

The Latin word 'retrospectare' from which the modern term 'retrospective' is derived conventionally refers to a backward glance, the postulate of which is the past. But in Banana: Braque, Warhol and Beyond, the artist DK Bose adopts a persona akin to two-headed Janus, or Ianus, the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions who casts his gaze upon that which is in the realm of recollections as well as the future. Similarly, in Banana: Braque, Warhol and Beyond, the artist presents a curated selection of sculptural installations, sculptures, installations, photographic works, photographs and paintings that exemplify his oeuvre and also offer a tantalising look at how Bose's praxis is evolving, thus giving us a glimpse of a promising future.

Art for Bose is a site of contest between context, subtext and pretext. Rather than passively see Banana: Braque, Warhol and Beyond, the viewer is encouraged to encounter the works and engage in the dialectics that inform Bose’s praxis.

Banana: Braque, Warhol and Beyond shows Bose's atypical perspective of the quotidian. In his photographs and paintings, the common becomes uncommon and a Barthesian punctum anchors the gaze upon the interstitial space of theory, creativity and experiential memory. Subverting conventional notions of aesthetics and superficial gloss, Bose's paintings are a space of subjugation, transformation and desire. Rather than pleasure re-territorialising the space in a Foucauldian sense, Bose's attention is upon deterritorialisation. The conceptual complexity of his photographs makes them a labyrinth of references that curate and collate art historical milestones. Beauty is a castoff; ugliness is deconstructed; the everyday is enriched. Seemingly nihilistic, a closer look at Bose's art shows a nuanced but unflinching celebration of the grandeur of the commonplace.Image 2nd

The progressive scientisation of our culture is a leitmotif in Bose's sculptural installations, which inhabit the liminal space in which sculpture intersects with installation. They transform the spatial dynamics of the gallery and their construction and processes emphasise the architectonics of the contemporary era while simultaneously privileging the rigorous discipline of the manual labour that has been an intrinsic part of artistic praxes traditionally. Subverting notions of sophistication and technique, Bose posits a reinvention of constructs that determine an object to be technically advanced. Simplicity, with an emphasis on minimalist, utilitarian values, is the hallmark of the future that Bose imagines.

A bit of explanation

Return of the Zombie RajeshJAI ARJUN SINGH

Love, Sex aur Internet DhokaAISHWARYA SUBRAMANIAN

‘The plangent silence of the shadowy bedroom’Siddharth Singh

Rage Against the Money MachineBHANUJ KAPPAL

Art for Bose is a site of contest between context, subtext and pretext. Rather than passively see Banana: Braque, Warhol and Beyond, the viewer is encouraged to encounter the works and engage in the dialectics that inform Bose's praxis. Bose's work is part of numerous prestigious, international collections and thanks are extended to the following for their generosity....

Translated for the Artist:

Retrospective of acclaimed works from the past and hastily-done pieces from the present. Big show coming up somewhere else so new works are being made for that show. This one's like a warm-up. Contains photographs, paintings, sculpture and installations. The photographs are derivative. The paintings are abstracts. The installations are very mechanical. Wanker.

Translated for the Critic:

Has thesaurus and isn't afraid to use it. Photographs, paintings, sculpture and installation. Either the artist has studied abroad or has hired a postgraduate student to write wall text. Can use phrases from wall text if writing a review. Postmodern wanker.

Translated for the Curator:

Getting works will be complicated and involve massaging many collectors/museum/gallery egos. The style is likely to be provocative with phallic objects popping up (given the repeated mention of bananas and the absence of any feminist critical perspectives).


Expensive show, tough to sell but this is a good artist to dangle in front of press. Knows big words, drops names from international art and work is suitably weird without being completely dysfunctional. If reasonably attractive, a profile in fashion/lifestyle magazine is almost guaranteed.


Works might be derivative but the artist should be a good one to have at parties. The photographs probably use found photographs. The paintings are abstracts. The installations are likely to be mechanical and interesting in their mechanics.


Overpriced works but promising artist.

Random visitor:

Weird paintings, weirder photographs. Installations may be cool. Wanker, but successful and famous-ish wanker. NOTE: If the airconditioning isn't turned on when you walk in, someone in the gallery will turn it on the moment they see you.

For those who don't have smartphones, rumour has it that the company that created this app is also working on a holographic wall text that, if seen with special glasses (like 3-D glasses), will show you the translated version. The art world need never mystify you again.

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