On Friday I went back to the National Gallery to have a closer look at LOVE – a touring exhibition curated in partnership with Bristol’s Museums, Galleries & Archives and Tyne & Wear Museums. I went quickly through on Wednesday, but wanted to have a proper look at it all (and take up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hang something on the National Gallery’s esteemed walls).

I really enjoy small thematic exhibitions when they are well done. Working at a gallery earlier this year I found that exhibitions with a theme were generally the most popular and the most fun to work at. While you can get tired of an single exhibiting artist’s ‘rugged rural aesthetic’ surprisingly quickly, when you have a collection of works by multiple artists there is always something exciting to find.

LOVE only takes up about three rooms of the gallery, but includes a huge range of styles, eras and subjects. It covers themes of religious devotion, romantic love, parental love, desire and charity. There are works from major artists including Goya, Vermeer, Chagall, Raphael, Turner, plus contributions from some modern artists: David Hockney, Tracey Emin and Yoko Ono.

I wasn’t aware that Ono was taken at all seriously as an artist until I saw that she had a piece in the Sydney Biennale this year (not that being included in the Sydney Biennale is a definitive mark of being taken seriously as an artist). I suppose this is just unfair skepticism about the value of performance art on my part, and distrust of incidental celebrity. Her work in the Biennale was a telephone (attached to a nondescript wall) which she planned to call at various (undisclosed) times during festival. I didn’t hear it ring.

In LOVE Yoko Ono’s contribution was Secret Piece III – (from the catalogue):

“A new conceptual work of art, conceived by Yoko Ono, will develop as the exhibition takes place, one that encourages contemplation on the visual articulation of love. Secret Piece III invites each visitor to contribute an image of, or a message for, a loved one to a blank canvas… The personal, subjective visions that make up its whole are a sign of life in the twenty-first century, for place and time have always shaped works of art and their means of communication.”

Some of the contributions were quite funny:

I love me.*

I love scientology this much: [with a accompanying tiny double sided arrow.]

I made you a cookie, but I eated it.

I used to love you. Now I love my friends.

SCOTLAND: MY LOVE, MY HEART.

It’s irritating that I’m doing this because Yoko Bloody Ono has told us to… but I can’t help it because, Quentin, I love you so much.

Other messages were quite sincere:

I LOVE YOU! Dear someone who I meet someday. LOVE & PEACE. It’s all about the world.

I wish I loved you enough to tell you everything.

The dance floor is never the same without you.

I feel more like me when you’re there, than when you’re not.

My sweet grandma. I love you and miss you so very much, I am eating lots of chocolate because the little Indian lady at the corner shop reminds me of you.

All these lyrics. Moments between us. Shadows on the blinds, mixed together with your taste. This is how I love you right now.

Now I don’t think I’m really excited enough about conceptual art to write anything particularly profound about it. But I have one opinion. If your artwork is nothing but an idea, it really should be an idea that people engage with.

If people look at The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, and think ‘that shark is looking a bit fishy’, the artwork isn’t too successful.

I really liked Secret Piece III. People were obviously enjoying engaging with it, and the things people had to say about love were an interesting contribution to an exhibition that showcased many different types of emotion.

But what did I write on the love wall?

On behalf of Lydia and Pete (who are probably still skulking around AGNSW waiting for Yoko’s call):

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*Other ‘I love [blank]’ comments: dogs, cats, my cat, ‘Marco the string zebra’, shoes, cheese blend and ‘be bop’.

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