The Three

Percy Miller Gallery

Collectors, save this issue! The review you are reading will soon be an artwork, or part of one—not my art, of course, since I’m not (yet) one of those critics who’s been tempted to cross over, but that of the anonymous collective known as The Three, a band of women said to make their living as fashion models (“with the same London agency where artist Mariko Mori modeled”). Their work is about as austerely conceptual as you can imagine. They don’t make anything—no paintings, of course, but also no videos, objects, or texts. They don’t do anything—not only do they not perform or even organize events, they make no appearances of any kind, although a couple of severe, unrevealing photographs of them have been published, and they have granted an interview or two. And until now, though their art career goes back at least to 1989, they have not exhibited anything. In fact, their work consists solely of their being discussed by other people. So what they showed here was, quite simply, press clippings: everything that has been published about The Three, straightforwardly pinned to the gallery walls, with a few new items added over the course of the show as it generated further coverage.

Of course, there is an inherent tension between the profound reserve exercised by these artists and the intended result or final product, namely discourse or, more bluntly, buzz. The lack “produced” by The Three needs a mediator to call attention to it, and this role is played by the New York-based English art critic and journalist Adrian Dannatt, who was not only the organizer of this exhibition but also the author of most of the copy on view. (Perhaps the personal details of The Three will be divulged when Dannatt, also an obituary writer for The Independent, breaks the news of their demise, when the time comes.) It takes less than Holmesian acumen to surmise that Dannatt is the inventor of The Three—that this is the critic’s very own art project.

On one level, this enterprise works as a simple spoof on the contemporary art world, whose fascination with the glamorous world of fashion and rather touching propensity for reading meaning into anything (the more closely withheld the better) are well documented. And it’s amusing to think that at least some of the writers who took Dannatt’s bait and wrote about The Three as if they were real were completely gulled (and you, Nicolas Bourriaud?). But the satire doesn't quite take. “Artists today are much more interested in their press coverage and column inches than the content of their show,” The Three “told” Anthony Haden-Guest recently. “In Britain, where we live, being famous for being famous has replaced all other values in the contemporary art world.” Well, actually, no, it hasn’t. When the project slips from the agnostic, surprisingly earnest play on contemporary art’s lack of ontological and epistemic foundation seen in some of Dannatt’s writings and instead becomes merely cynical denunciation, it rings false and the charge rebounds against the accuser. Yet this may be an undertaking of extraordinary idealism. Why would a critic take up an art form that promises to be even less remunerative than writing? Dannatt’s aspiration for art turns out to be purer than that of The Three: that it be a form of intellectual entertainment.

Barry Schwabsky