I’m currently writing the successor to my book Career Suicide, from which this blog also emerged. The new one will be called Gentlemen and Players. It’s about the various weird situations in which 21st century artists and other creative people are finding themselves due to economic factors and rapidly changing means of production, distribution and consumption. Also making fun of stupid people and the stupid things they do, obviously. And yes, I know the title is sexist and reactionary. I’m writing about the systemic gender and class imbalances in the arts and media, too.
As part of the research process for the book (and of seeing which parts I can cannibalise for the book) I’ve just started reviewing everything that I’ve published here over the past few years. Two documents I put together a while ago but haven’t been widely published are the first things to emerge from this ongoing excavation. Two subjects I’ve often returned to here on this blog are 1) Dodgy pretend galleries that are mainly designed to part wannabe artists from their money and 2) The widespread advertisement of “artist residencies” that are nothing more than curated studio rental or pretentious holidays. Follow the links to see the permanent pages on these subjects.
I still welcome tip offs and informants, but I think I’ve now said just about all there is to say about this sector of the art industry. New people keep blundering in and falling prey to these spivs, but I hope that these two pages will allow me if future to just point at them instead of me having to repeat myself every time another poor wretch succumbs. Honestly, I’m glad to help people out but at the same time being the confidential confessor for so many people is exhausting because their stories are invariably awful and depressing. Once the new book is done I’m hoping to draw a line under the stuff I’ve done until now, and take the blog in a new direction.
A SPOTTER’S GUIDE TO DODGY GALLERIES
WHEN IS A RESIDENCY NOT A RESIDENCY?
Clockwise from top left: “God in a bottle”, chimney sweep trade mannequin, soldier’s pincushion, boody (broken china) mosaic tray with doll, papier maché meat from a butcher shop, carved bone chicken.
Tate Britain’s British Folk Art exhibition (continues in London until 31 August 2014, then moves to Compton Verney in Warwickshire) is one of the most inspiring collections I’ve seen in this country recently. I dislike terms like “folk art” or “outsider art” because to me if they’re art then they’re just art, but I acknowledge that these terms can have their uses. This is a minor quibble anyway, in the context of a show that clearly celebrates and validates the umtrammeled creativity of ordinary people in an intelligent and unpatronising way that few of our large art institutions would even bother to try. Most of the objects come from the often sorely underappreciated museum collections in places like Beamish, Norwich, or Tunbridge Wells, which I hope will encourage more people to visit them. It becomes terrifyingly clear that the collective memory of society is very short and full of holes. For example, who knew that male soldiers dug needlework so much and were so good at it, even as recently as WWI? Where did all our dressed wells, Obby Osses and Gods in bottles go?
On the day I went there were a lot of delighted and interested people of all ages very vocally and visibly enjoying the items on display. How often does that happen in an art exhibition nowadays? Such a contrast to the arid I-don’t-even-know-if-it’s-conceptual-or-what of Phyllida Barlow in the hall right alongside British Folk Art. Barlow’s work always reminds me of my dad’s penchant for keeping old bits of wood, obsolete plumbing and old tarpaulins stacked up against the back of our house, just in case they were ever needed… which they never were. And they weren’t art, either. Criticising Barlow is apparently a no-no because she’s a professor and she probably taught a lot of artists and so nobody ever does. That good old art world omerta. I’ll assume she’s fine as a human being until I hear anything to the contrary, but I get absolutely nothing from her work, or from the work of her numerous imitators and fellow travellers. What is it saying? Is it saying anything? What am I supposed to think or feel here? I think and feel nothing in front of this work. Worse than nothing, actually, because on balance I’m slightly annoyed by it. I’d enjoy throwing it in a skip and seeing it hauled off by a lorry, but I’m into a good tidy up anyway and I wouldn’t credit Barlow for the pleasure.
GOT 99 PROBLEMS BUT THE TRUTH AIN’T ONE
Sad news. Notting Hill shopkeepers, “Art as Lifestyle” buccaneers and massive Career Suicide fans Debut Contemporary recently experienced some kind of unfortunate IT glitch, leading to the total loss of all the one star reviews and negative comments on their Facebook page. Luckily, all the uncritical or gushing four and five star reviews were uneffected. Even better, somebody screencapped all the bad reviews before they disappeared. I’m sure Samir will be pleased to know they weren’t lost and are still circulating freely.
Following this tragedy on Facebook, I couldn’t help noticing some of their excellent photography.
Who’s this? Only bloody “Moreen Lipman” and “Alan Yantob” [both sic and, evidently, sick if they really endorse this place] as proudly namechecked in the DC prospectus. Maybe they’re impersonators who have to style themselves thusly in order to avoid legal action from the real has-been actress and the genuine middlebrow art Hobbit. Samir’s also apparently had a go with other art world titans such as Jason Donovan and Alan Carr. I know, impressive. One time I was on at a Virgin Megastore with Kylie Minogue, though, on the same fucking poster and everything, it was like Alistair Gentry 2pm Kylie Minogue 3pm. Think on that and what it says about my importance to the field of Fine Art.
ALSO: THE QUEEN’S NIECE, HER SURVEYOR OF PICTURES, AND THE 64,277TH MOST IMPORTANT ARTIST
The deadline for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition is pressing upon us, like a paunchy red-trousered sextagenarian taking liberties with our bottoms when he squeezes far too intimately past in the train’s buffet car on the way back to his seat in First Class. Another in Parker Harris‘ comprehensive range of reception hoppers for the excess money of aspiring artists, it will cost you £15 per image to get up to four of your works in front of the “panel of leading figures in the art world, including Sarah Armstrong Jones, artist; Ben Ravenscroft, artist: Desmond Shawe-Taylor CVO, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures; and Louis Wise, Critic and Writer, The Sunday Times.”
Sarah Armstrong Jones and The Times are being terribly modest because Sarah is actually The Lady Sarah Frances Elizabeth Chatto, daughter of the 1st Earl of Snowdon and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and second daughter of George VI. Sarah is 20th in line to the throne. She’s the niece of Queen Elizabeth II, but over her lifetime Lady Chatto has slipped from seventh in line to her current sad ranking, the poor old thing. She either didn’t suck up to Her Maj enough, or she failed to avail herself of opportunities for royal sibling murder. Any road up, who better to dangle the hope of cash prizes to ordinary, ambitious people than a woman who never worked a day in her life because she was born at the apex of a feudal, plutocratic and super wealthy elite who live mainly at the British tax payers’ expense? In honour of the competition I executed a modest watercolour of her. I hope she likes it. I gave her a crown, because you know she’s been to a fancy dress shop or a Burger King to pick up a toy one so she can “jokingly” just see what it looks like. I admit the mouth area went a big wrong. She doesn’t have a ginger beard in real life and she is not a gut-munching cannibal either.
It’s artistic license, OK?
£15 down the crapper. SFX: Old fashioned “ker-ching!” till ring.
THE MOST POWERFUL
SCUMBAGS PEOPLE IN THE ART WORLD
Supposedly to tie in with the opening of the Frieze and Gap Art Fair in New York– but really apropos of nothing except “ooh, rich people”– somebody called Jason used their own drool (he also contributes to human-shaped joke Tyler Brulé’s Monocle. QED.) to write out a super-duper tip-top list of “the most powerful people in the art world” for The Guardian.
It’s the usual soul-crushing litany of scumbags, twats, con artists, plutocrats and fuckwits but the real enjoyment is to be found in the torrent of vituperation and scorn in the comments. Read them all because there’s some good stuff about the chasm between this tiny, elite art world and what most real artists do or want to do, and what the public wants from artists. Here’s a few of the best comments, complete with the typos from their authors (rightly) being so angry they couldn’t quite control their fingers:
“It’s literally about handjobs, 110% about who you know twixt how well you speak bullshit. For instance if you can write a side of A4 to place next to a sock on the floor, explaining it’s existential significance then you are ready for the big time.”
“And what all this has to do with art? Art is a form of expression, it has nothing to do with power. A true artist is a fee person who is looking for personal satisfaction before anything else. This people are businessmen, money-makers, looking for power and prestige.”
“This something of an art world. It is not the art world. It’s the kind of art world that many who don’t like or understand the practices of contemporary art wish into existence. Farago even seems to identify goodies and baddies. (He is only a journalist) There are many art worlds.”
“Recent academic research reveals a developing gap between the comic-book art world outlined above, and practitioners and audiences, ranging from disenchantment to alienation. A recent publication (Art Production Beyond the Art Market edited by Karen van den Berg & Ursula Pasero) outlines something of the fundamental changes in art production, artists’ strategies and in the interconnection of different fields of cultural practice. Much of it makes the group above look as relevant in 2014 as Stubbs or Kahnweiler or Peggy Guggenheim. The only thing that connects them is wealth…”
“Why does the Guardian grovel and dribble at the mouth over these people? Where’s the critique? Where are the big analytical articles highlighting the shameless collusion of our “top” artists and galleries with the whims and tastes of a detached, decadent global super-rich elite – people who have primarily made their fortunes in a brutally unequal economic system that condemns millions to misery? As a newspaper you have pursued politicians, corporations, policemen and exposed corruption and criminality, but when it comes to the art world you go all starry-eyed and are content to make fawning, adulatory lists. You should be ripping into these people, every single one of them.”
“We need another term for this. It has nothing to do with art, really, so why refer to it as the art world? It’s just a subset of the larger commodity investment field, not so very different than trading in pork belly futures or real estate. Let’s please leave the word art out of it.”
“Depressing that half the collectors on this list stole their money from their own people – or go out with someone that did.”
“A useful list, should the revolution ever actually happen.”