Aesthetes fight war of agreement
There’s nothing quite like the insults that art critics spit at each other. Previous debates in this magazine (on such piffling issues as global poverty, turmoil in Kashmir or British entry into the euro) have provoked merely terse disagreement between combatants. But, “crikey!”-as Matthew Collings exclaims in this issue (p18) after Brian Sewell has slashed at him with a bloody scythe of abuse-art really makes people angry. Brian, of course, is famous for his mellifluously barbed tirades, normally directed at contemporary British artworks. Here, however, Matt receives from Brian an even more severe lashing for being a rival critic attempting to offer a compliment (the ultimate sin) to the elder statesman of stick-poking. Pricked by accusations of lubricity and flatulence, Matt presses Brian with the counter-charge of being, “a sado-masochistic nutcase.”
The curiosity is how much these two actually agree. In fact, on the subject of so-called “conceptual” or “Brit” art (as opposed to serious abstraction), they engage in an unspoken clash of agreement. Essentially, they both think most Britart is daft (though Brian thinks all of it is daft). Could this be a turning point in national taste? Here is the critic who presents the Turner Prize on television standing shoulder to shoulder with the critic who most violently opposes the art promoted by that prize. They share a dislike of Tate Modern’s towering temple of contemporary conceptualism. “It is a silly, empty-headed place,” says Matt. Brian, for once, cannot disagree. For those mere tourists among us, who drift in and out of galleries with convictions of plasticine, this may be a moulding moment.
Shockart: just add canap?s and TV executives
BBC4, the channel which invites us to think (as long as we’ve thought to go digital), recently had a fun launch party stuffed to the oxters with Britart. I met Matt Collings there, who was being witty about bad-boy artist Michael Landy, who hadn’t shown up for a work of performance art, called “closing down sale.” Instead, a notice in the corner explained that a transcript for the show had been lost in an Essex landfill site. “That’s either totally ironic or actually true,” said Matt.
I admit, my mind was mostly on the hot dogs (any party that gives out substantial junk food instead of sushi canap?s on micro-biscuits has my blessing). But a thought or two was provoked by Mat…