SERPENTINE GALLERY, LONDON, 11 APRIL-5 JUNE 2012
This is one of the most childish, intellectually rudimentary and amateur exhibitions I’ve ever seen at a major London gallery… and that’s some seriously stiff competition. Clown noses daubed on Victorian portraits or onto Washington’s face on a dollar bill, women’s handbags emptied out and displayed in cases, cutting the people out of found photographs, painting Classical statues in bright colours- which is not even an art world joke that makes any kind of art historical sense, given that in the ancient world statuary and buildings really were all painted in what would seem incredibly garish colours to the modern eye… it’s like somebody doing a scurrilous, slanderous, ignorant parody of what they think a contemporary artist gets up to, like a stage set for a mocking portrayal of an artist in a bad sitcom. Or they’re the Joker as portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the 1980s?
I’m sure the Serpentine’s budgets are not small and the thing’s sponsored by Hugo Boss, among others, but to paraphrase Mae West I suppose it takes that much money to make an exhibition look this cheap.
H-P, you’re seventy-odd years old: grow up, for fuck’s sake.
Fortunately I didn’t waste my time trudging through Hyde Park in the rain to get there, because I was privy to a wonderful vignette of art world fuckery.
The prologue was a woman recording a piece for radio with a member of staff. I’d name them if I knew who either of them were, but I don’t. Regular readers will know I’m not delicate about such things. I think the journalist was called Ruth, if that helps anybody. They were discussing the handbags when I was in the room- looking in handbags was taboo when the artist was a boy, blah blah blah, obvious obvious obvious, don’t you think it’s time you got over it?
I really, really hope it wasn’t a package for Woman’s Hour or something, purely because of the handbag angle. We ladies have a load of junk in our handbags, don’t we, am I right? Although I fear it may well have been something so horribly crass because I know from experience that’s exactly how the tiny, literal, desperate minds of radio producers work.
A while later, in the foyer, the journalist realises that she doesn’t have enough material and she needs some sonic variety. She asks for somebody whose name I didn’t catch to come down and speak to her a bit more. He was unavailable, either for real or conveniently so. Ruth asks instead for the woman she was speaking to in the gallery before, just a few minutes previously: so sorry, she’s not available this afternoon either.
Uh oh! Ruth can’t see what I can see: as she talks to the receptionist, the woman in question is sneaking along the wall behind her back- where the receptionist couldn’t possibly have failed to see her- and then darting up the stairs to hide, Tom & Jerry style. It was such a cartoony thing to do, she would have benefited from a little xylophone riff.
Eventually Ruth’s Kafkaesque ordeal came to an ignominious end when somebody from PR condescended to meet her at reception, only to flatly refuse any discussion on the artist’s or anybody else’s behalf… which seems rather odd, don’t you think, since one would have thought that’s pretty much what her job is?
Maybe Ruth’s well known for being a royal pain in the arse. She seemed perfectly reasonable to me, though. I’ve actually conducted and edited those kinds of interviews or vox pop things for radio; it can be an arduous and thankless process even without your interview subjects deliberately playing silly buggers with you. It just seemed yet another fine example of how art world people can be outrageously snotty and indifferent to general opinion (or even general good manners) when the people they’re dealing with aren’t perceived as in the loop or “one of them”, even if somebody has gone out of their way to reach out and try to understand.
Not that there is anything to understand in this pathetic exhibition so she was on a hiding to nothing in that regard, but if they set out to deliberately make certain she went away knowing that nobody at the gallery considered her important enough to bother with… SUCCESS, ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED, YOU WON A TROPHY.