May 27, 2004


Janet Street-Porter's infuriating cake and eat it defence of Emin et al on Question Time just now - we should respect YBAs because they are popular AND we should defend them against the derision of the masses. A perfect summation of the confused mixture of populism and elitism that underlies the Britart aesthetic.

Let's hope that the fire acts as a symbolic end to Britart.

Posted by mark at May 27, 2004 11:32 PM | TrackBack


that's just it, YBA wasn't popular (AFAIK).

i wd be FAR more impressed w' Street-Porter if she stopped mouthing off and launched a cogent defence/wily dissection of Jack Vettriano and the High Art 'snobbery' against him...

Posted by: scott at May 27, 2004 11:45 PM


But Britart is popular - in the sense that it is well-known, it's an 'event'. Not sure that many ppl like it, but that's not the point. There certainly isn't blanket hostility or incomprehension. Those that enjoy Britart have blandly accepted it from the start. The analogy with BB is again compelling.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 12:16 AM

christ mark you can be such a fucking dickhead sometimes.

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at May 28, 2004 08:37 AM

whether you like these artists or not, NO ONE deserves to lose their work in a fire.

you are at your least attractive when you embark on this kneejerk anti-populist bullshit.

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at May 28, 2004 08:39 AM

go to the comments bit on auspicious fish and read what mark s has to say about it. perhaps you'd like to tell him how glad you are that everything in there has been destroyed.

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at May 28, 2004 08:45 AM

Read again, Marcello. I specifically didn't say that I was glad that everything has been destroyed. Some worthwhile work went. So did a lot of trash (Emin et al). I'm not particularly concerned about this 'loss'. Yr accusations of 'anti-populism' perfectly illustrate the bewildered nature of the JSP-type defence of ShitArt; JSP was accusing those who _attacked_ YBA of populism. Elitist populism, populist elitism, there's nothing worse.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 10:48 AM

Well, I don't agree at all with the suggestion that Emin is not a valuable artist, but leaving that aside, suggesting that she and her peers are not popular is plainly nonsense. A great many people find her ideas fascinating. Just because an equal amount do not does not make her unpopular. By those terms we might call U2 the least popular band in the world - and, however much we may dislike them, they're plainly not.

Posted by: jonathan at May 28, 2004 10:52 AM

I'm not glad about this whole burning of art business, but I don't care very much either. I have tried to get interested in Brit art at various stages but never found anything particularly exciting or inventive. Nor do I know anyone else who cares about it. Maybe Emin et al were popular in certain groups but I've only ever found that in the art 'elites' who swan about at gallery openings fawning over abstract concepts that mean little to anyone.

It has been argued that we in the North can never appreciate good art but when there has been a good exhibition it is appreciated (eg. the Corba group work which was apparently 'too good' for us). But it tends to be that when you walk about the Baltic you tend to walk the huge gallery spaces by yourself. Does that make us all phillistines? If by phillistines you mean that our tastes aren't defined by some artist elite then I guess so.

The burning of the Saatchi collection was sad as the burning of any cultural object is sad. But I've found more exciting things going on in music in the past century than I've ever done in brit art and I'd be despairing more if someone could wipe out all the musical creations (as if that could happen).

In itself, the burning was an event, and that makes it interesting, in some ways it even makes it art. I imagine that standing watching the Saatchi collection burn would arouse more affect than standing in the Tate looking at a bed.

Posted by: siobhan at May 28, 2004 12:23 PM

For what it's worth i couldn't give a toss. If a big pile of toilet paper, washing up liquid, eggs or detergent went up in flames, you wouldn't find people getting all hand-wringing earnest about it, would you? i found the work of the ybas about as emotionally affecting as the aforementioned commodities. marcello you have been conned. you've been told it's art, so therefore it's sacred. say you don't care if it goes up in smoke or that you're glad and you're a borderline nazi, espousing hitler book-burning philosophy. wrong. this stuff does not matter to me.

Posted by: Dave S at May 28, 2004 01:03 PM

I get more pissed off when local authorities paint over really good grafitti, to be honest.

Posted by: Dave Stelfox at May 28, 2004 01:10 PM

But Britart is popular - in the sense that it is well-known, it's an 'event'

but leaving that aside, suggesting that she and her peers are not popular is plainly nonsense.

this just reminds me of Germaine Greer's assertion that Marketing is the most important art form of the last century. YBA is nothing more than a huge marketing strategy with saatchi at the centre ensuring the work he owns increases in value by as much as possible. Even the so called media hysteria surrounding certain works (for example the vile Myra Hindley portrait done in kids hand prints) is entirely manufactured. The work is mosly valueless and empty.

Posted by: at May 28, 2004 01:33 PM

But Britart is popular - in the sense that it is well-known, it's an 'event'

but leaving that aside, suggesting that she and her peers are not popular is plainly nonsense.

this just reminds me of Germaine Greer's assertion that Marketing is the most important art form of the last century. YBA is nothing more than a huge marketing strategy with saatchi at the centre ensuring the work he owns increases in value by as much as possible. Even the so called media hysteria surrounding certain works (for example the vile Myra Hindley portrait done in kids hand prints) is entirely manufactured. The work is mosly valueless and empty.

Posted by: jed at May 28, 2004 01:34 PM


Posted by: colin o'hara at May 28, 2004 01:34 PM

they shd have left the sprinklers on all the time then everything wd have got mildewed and grubby and become a RUIN (= art by defn as all kno)

seeing as ghosts are extremely culturally powerful, asking that this be the death of YBA = asking that YBA now haunt culture indestructibly and forever, probably!!

Posted by: mark s at May 28, 2004 01:39 PM

That said it's a shame about some of the other stuff in there, but i can't get too bothered about the loss of emin or hirst's work.

Posted by: Dave S at May 28, 2004 01:41 PM

all cultural value is manufactured, colin, that's what culture IS

this whole squabble is primarily an argt abt who's "allowed" to manufacture it (and the hostility is an anger that it isn't "us" - though actually the main ppl stopping "us" saying where value lies is in fact "us") (schadenfreude = insecurity = secret concession of the point at issue?)

(interesting sidebar: is the anti-MP3 argt - ppl who make infinitely mass-reproducible music of whatever "quality" deserve to be paid for it as if it is only slightly mass-reproducible - squarable with the argt that ppl who make UNreproducible work of whatever "quality" deserve to be paid for it as if it is a. only slightly mass-reproducible b. infinitely mass-reproducible?)

Posted by: mark s at May 28, 2004 01:52 PM

theres a difference though, surely, between manufactured cultural artifacts and a manufactured furore surrounding it/popularity for it.

Posted by: jed at May 28, 2004 02:05 PM

only in the same sense that there's a difference between what you think about the artefact and what the world thinks about it

Posted by: mark s at May 28, 2004 02:31 PM

When we say 'Brit Art' what are we talking about, because I don't quite understand the term as it's being used. Are people saying that they dislike Emin and Hirst (two conceptual artists) or that they dislike all modern artists, conceptual or otherwise? Because it seems to me that there is an enormous difference between Tracy Emin's tent and her pen drawings, between Hirst's sharks and Chris Ofili's paintings, between Rachel Whitread's holocaust sculpture and Antony Gormley's Angel of the North.

What concerns me is that people who - frankly - don't know what they're talking about promote modern British art as being Emin's bed. Whereas, for example, Gary Hume's wonderful high gloss paintings are different in almost every respect. Some of these burned in the fire too. Are we really damning Hume's very singular paintings simply because we resent the fact that Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas are able self-publicists???

Posted by: jonathan at May 28, 2004 02:53 PM

I suppose I'm on of those people who don't know aht they're talking about, really. I could comfortably live without 95 per cent of visual art.

Posted by: Dave S at May 28, 2004 03:19 PM

But seeing a library in flames when I was living in Norwich a few years back was one of the most upsetting things I've ever witnessed.

Posted by: Dave S at May 28, 2004 03:21 PM

This is great!

Thanks for your contributions all cru...

I'm with Dave and Siobhan obv....

I don't know what was in there in full detail; I'm sorry that the Chapmans' "Hell' went; and the Paula Rego; I couldn't give a toss about Emin's sewing.

That tent must have took about an afternoon's work and -like a great deal of this so-called conceptualism - about ten seconds' thought. (The most impoverished thing about conceptualism is of course the concept --- or lack of it).

Admit it, Marcello and other apologists, it's emperor's new clothes, utterly trite, depressing, anti-art. I actually do not believe that anyone thinks that Emin's tent was of any worth.

Some art critic on the news saying 'It doesn't matter what anyone thinks, what their individual taste is, this stuff is IMPORTANT.' Well, only because the likes of YOU tell us it is, Mister. Ppl talking about how this will be thought of in 50 years; trust me, people, NO-ONE will be talking about this in fifty years. It'll be as inconsequent and irrelevant and incomprehensible as videotapes of Big Brother. If it has any significance at all it will be that people once thought it was significant.

Think the Tarantino comparison is compelling, actually. Same papulist PoMo sensationalism.... Same instant acceptance and instant forgetability...

Both Street-Porter and Winterson buy into an absurd vanguardist logic. 'Picasso/ Constable/ Whistler weren't accepted at first...' As if Emin was trailblazing rather than doing something TIRED, something a century OLD...

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 07:45 PM

>you are at your least attractive when you embark on this
>kneejerk anti-populist bullshit.

got to agree with that, but as ever I'm confused by the 'anti-' - following on from the bbc thing, there's some confused class complex about 'populism' going on with k-punk . First you say the bbc's an elitist ivory tower, then that it's not elitist enough, first that TV's never been the same since the 70s, then that everything got better after, and thanks to, murdoch. Sometimes it seems this worrying about populism is just getting in the way of thinking clearly about actual material reality... Now admitting that you haven't seen the stuff, but that it doesn't matter you give a blanket dismissal of all Emin and Hirst's work for being mere intellectual-capitalistic gameplay, I just can't agree with that - even though I too find the marketing and artworld fauning utterly nauseating, it needs to be said that both of these people have been engaged in genuine long-term thoughtful artistic practice and in some cases their work is imperfect but powerful and affecting. It certainly deserves to be experienced, at least, before you trash it all in one go! Neither Hirst nor Emin's work is centrally concerned with self-reflexive Duchampian notions about art - Emin's work is a perfect example of having gone beyond that stage, taken it for granted, and still struggled for years to create something from her own experience that evokes specific complexes of affect. Her work ie with fabrics is totally bound up the relationship of materiality to the personal, emotional and the conceptual, as is/was Hirst's at its best, so to denounce them as 'mere' conceptualists and shock-merchants is simply to fall for the hype yourself (as is using the term 'britart' or 'YBA').

Perversely, your arguments _against_ 'britart's supposed courting of the media/controversy/critical kneejerk response are all based on what you've seen about the artists on TV or read in the papers; here you precisely _are_ becoming part of some baudrillardian critiquosphere that has no relation to the works but simply exists to justify the critics' own 'importance' (ie the foul Winterson). Debate _is_ idiot distraction, but it seems you can't resist it...

Maybe you rate the Chapmans higher simply because you've bothered to look at more of their stuff. Surely judgment of any work of art requires making an effort rather than merely checking the dial on the populometer and spinning off into shrill Burchill-style denunciations. I don't understand why people _care_ so much about this second-tier shit, which is far less interesting and affecting than even a failed artwork done by someone who's genuinely searching for something to say about life. Watch less TV!

Posted by: undercurrent at May 28, 2004 07:58 PM

in the above, I meant fawning, not fauning. Fauns are the work of Satan.

Posted by: undercurrent at May 28, 2004 08:04 PM

No, Robin, the BBC position is perfectly consistent; it's the inconsistency between an elitist funding principle and (failed) populist programming I was pointing to - if you're going to be elitist, be elitist.

And I didn't say that EVERYTHING was better since Murdoch; just that he's not the spawn of Satan, and are people really saying they didn't want cable and satellite? (You don't count, cos you hate TV)

I didn't say I hadn't seen ANY Hirst or Emin. I said I haven't seen much. What I have seen was pitiful. Boring. It's just like Tarantino; of course, one has to subject oneself to it to some degree in order to confirm how crap it is. But it is crap.

I'd like to see evidence of Emin's 'thoughtfulness'. The South Bank show (oops TV again, but she had plenty of her opportunity to speak in her own voice and show her uh 'films' was abject and embarrassing.

And no sorry, don't buy this separation of the works from the critics; that's the point of this tired conceptualism, it's entirely dependent upon critical discourse (the cloth from which the emperor's new clothes are weaved).

What is Hirst's great thought? Things die. Gee whizz. What is Emin's? Errrr.....

And nothing, not even pomo meta-critique, could be less interesting than Emin's tent.

Doesn't matter. No-one'll care less about her or remember her in five years.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 08:20 PM

That is to say, I'd MUCH rather read Julie Burchill than be bored stupid by having to look at another Hirst pharmacy or Emin bed.

On the Chapmans: I'd put them above Hirst, Hirst above Emin, simply because there's some content over and above empty adolescent confessionalism ('experience'). They're not great, but there's something to look at and respond to there rather than just 'think' about.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 08:27 PM

germaine greer really liked tracy's "bed" (is that what it's called?) and gave it a terrific context re the history of paintings of women boudoirs and representation of textiles and lush louche bed linen and etc etc for the erotic diversion of the patron-ising male gaze blah blah - also cf sewing as a mere invisible "girly" thing being of-course less important than boys playing w.toy soldiers? (

but mainly i liked when those chinese guys came and filmed themselves bouncing on it - that was certainly way better than just "thinking" about it!!

wah the last friends just started!!

Posted by: mark s at May 28, 2004 09:03 PM

[overflowing comment transplanted]

Posted by: undercurrent at May 28, 2004 10:06 PM

i am an art historian. Like an artwork or not what we're talking about here is history--Emin's work is indicative of certain attitudes towards art's "confessional" character, and towards women's lives and memory, etc. It has been important. Evidential. Which doesn't mean I like her work; I'd be prepared to argue against its particular take on the world. But to do so would require less cod-marxist foam, and a lot more thinking about what the work might have meant in, and to, its moment in art: to notions of self, and self-advertisement in the last two decades.

Part of the problem with the work's disappearance is the way that it makes such analysis impossible. The work isn't "gone" now--photographs survive, and so the work does too, in whatever mediated fashion. What is now gone is the material form of the work, which would be the real grounds for understanding the artwork beyond rumor and image (this is essential to the historian's project). Which are, in some sense, is what you're really griping about. They're all you seem to be going on. Running on fumes. Hot air.

There's no disrespect intended here, all in service of debate. The fucking thing is gone, like it or not. Glad Whiteread's "Ghost" wasn't there.

Posted by: Julian Myers at May 28, 2004 10:39 PM

to agree with and amplify the above, ruth also pointed out to me that among other things this is a good argument, financial and art-historical against art-hoarding in the saatchi style (although it does seem he could have been more careful...)

Posted by: undercurrent at May 28, 2004 10:44 PM

Yes, one of the things I was most aghast and appalled about was that so much stuff was warehoused... Why didn't he lend it to some galleries? There's a strange collector-dealer psychology at work here....

Still think the point about history is self-fulfilling really; it's not as if art history is some objective pre-discursive real independent of those who write it. Yes, Emin is in some sense important, but the reasons that are being advanced for her significance make her important only in the sense that Big Brother or I'm a Celebrity are; they are characteristic trends of the nineties/ zeroes. This is the logic of fashion.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 10:58 PM

Also, the fire itself is just as much of an event, in any case. Don't see why it's 'tabloid' symbolism, any more than the titanic sinking was tabloid symbolism.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 11:30 PM

the media didn't invent the titanic

Posted by: undercurrent at May 28, 2004 11:42 PM

the media didn't invent the titanic

eh? Did the media invent the fire then?

btw, have ppl seen the rumours (currently circulating on ILX ( that the whole thing was a Saatchi insurance scam?

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 11:46 PM

clarification, since 'britart' is a label of convenience for the media, the end of it could only be 'a symbolic event' within the confines of their limited worldview (but isn't that what symbolism always is, the interpretation of events through a prejudiced, partial schematic of thought) - hence tabloid symbolism.

Posted by: undercurrent at May 30, 2004 11:30 AM

Yes. Duchamp, if he were still milling around today, would not be identified with a "ludic" post-modernist art (aka Emin, Hirst et al), the
"conservative-pluralist" posture of "anything goes" in art, characterized by pastiche, quotation, play, and [driven by] PR, but with a more "critical-oppositional" avant garde strain of postmodern art, as with his visceral stance against complient modernism and the bourgeoise,
artvalue-conferring gallery system of nearly a
century ago. Yes, Duchamp would be welcoming Saatchi's unwitting "enhanced market-exchange
value of warehoused art" insurance-scam bonfire as itself, in contemporary Street-Porter parlance, a Work of Great Performance Ought ... as with KLF's ritual-redemptive burning of 1 million in hard cash some years ago ...

But its not just in traditional, unexamined notions of "Autistic Circles" that the
progressive avant garde is everywhere miniscule and marginal in rampant postmodernist
commodity cultural production. What about that [near-fascist] ubiquitous OTHER hysterical British Cultural Obsession, namely ----- Gawdening? Both the Actual irreal and the TV real? Still idealistically ingrained in a nostalgic pre-modern, arcadian Victorian mindset [strictly allied to the latest garden-implement/accessory inventions of the consumer-capitalist dispensation], doesn't it desperately need a Duchamp to blast it into oppositional modernity?

I mean, are we even yet permitted to imagine a Duchamp-inspired "gauden exhibit" in, say, the Chelsea Flower Show, contemporary British/Irish
gawdening's gallery system?

But look here: "Exhibit 21 ----The English Avant Garden: Passing first through the unspoiled, organicist aphid-infested rose bushes, and the
slug-eaten dahlias, then strolling by the Roundup-withered grass-patch laden with randomly-dispersed, dehydrated dog faeces, we're
suddenly pleasently confronted by the maggot-eaten Pigeon corpses floating indifferently in the rustic Water Feature, before lazily ambling on to the scented Patio Area with leaky Septic Tank as focal point, just adjacent to the experimental Children's Playpen - lovingly realised as a burnt-out Hiace van containing a bubble-wrapped wasps' nest balancing on a mountain of crumpled bear cans; and moving on, then, to the awe-provoking foot of the specimen gauden, featuring a precisely symmetrical and
symbolically-monumental arrangement of four great mounds of moist, dandalion-rich earth - each with biscuit-tin covered headstone, with the
spray-paint inscription "This Is Not A Garden" - where we buried the bodies, prior to their death, of Alan Dragmarsh, Charlie Dimwit, Dearmad
Gavin, and that dapper fuc*wit with the cravat, the cufflinks, and the Lord Byron designless-haircut. And we've already been commissioned by Tony Blair to re-create a precise replica at his new retirement home in downtown, gun-metal Baghdad ..."

"This Is Not A Garden"

Nah, on second thoughts it might just set another bad precedent for the "affectively performing" ludic pomo arts and autists: to witness, 100 years
from now, the British countryside choc-a-bloc with 1-million pomo landscape commissions by armies of Tracey Emin and Damian Hirst Landscape-Gawdening Autist lookalikes ... Avant Garde-ning, RIP. Next stop: Home DIY.

Get me out of here, Mr Saatchi, I'm not, I'm really not a celebrity!

Posted by: Padraig L Henry at June 1, 2004 02:05 AM