The front cover of Jim Lambie’s new monograph is black and white. This strikes me as odd. From an artist renowned for his psychedelic wig-outs, you might have expected a cover bursting forth with acid-fuelled exuberance, seductive ornament, frenzied decoration and intoxicating colour. I wonder if this curious instance of asceticism is in part a response to the tricky problem of trying to position Lambie within the expanded range of products on offer in our cultural community of obedience.
After all, a monograph on Lambie’s work is a difficult proposition. As the high priest of the rediscovered joys of the aesthetic, his baroque détournements of doors, floors and vinyl, shamelessly invite us to glory in the power and pleasures of the eye. Not surprisingly, such guiltless public reverie has made him the favourite suspect for many of those out to prove the intellectual vacuity of contemporary art.
While wrestling with this phoney opposition between the visual senses and the intellect, this book also has to tackle the problem of how you communicate a sense of an artist’s work, which is often premised on a visceral sensory overload. The seductive disorientation of work such as Zobop is inevitably rendered fairly mute by the politeness of print. This may be unavoidable, but it is still a shame, as it is Lambie’s celebration of the ersatz tastes of cosmic troubadours like George Clinton that separates him from the beige tastefulness of some of his peers.
Judging from this publication, Lambie is at his best when he takes the magic pill, disappears down the rabbit hole and delivers up intoxicating lunacy such as ‘Mental Oyster’ 2004. That said, I’d like him to be more excessive. In the 1980s—while pedestrian commodity sculptors like Haim Steinbach were no doubt using the financial rewards of exposing the pervasive commodification of life to invest in real estate—plastic cherub Jeff Koons ‘invested’ his mammon, by producing ever-more-decadent sculptural perversity. In this riotous, bacchanalian orgy of cum, glass and gigantic porcelain, it was evident where the profits of Koons’ supposedly ‘careerist, cynical’ manipulation of art and business had actually gone: into the art.
I’m not suggesting that Lambie follows in Koons’ plastic-fantastic, Adam-like footprints, but I can’t help feeling that everyone spinning in the vortex of glamour, fame and money around the amusingly disinterested Lambie is morally obligated to help him realise his flights of fantasy. I’d like to see Lambie’s art as big, bold and brash as Bernini’s St Peters. Then we’d finally get the art our age deserves.
John Beagles is a member of the Glasgow-based artist duo Beagles and Ramsay