Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A secular crown jewel

Wandered along to the Damian Hirst extravaganza at the Tate Modern over the weekend and was predictably unenthused. To me it was a perfect place to take a few youngsters and pretend that they have experienced some sort of culture. Hirst’s oeuvre is in the main flash-bang, the drip-spin, spotted, gore and utensil work appeals to the superficial, the fashionable and the childish.

So in terms of my plan it was a result. However one particular exhibit really got my goat, and it wasn’t so much the object itself but the curating of it that rankled. That Mr Hirst was able to find someone foolish enough to allow him to corrugate a skull with a pound or two of cut diamonds is neither here nor there. It is marginally interesting as an idea and has something about it. But the way that the object is set is extraordinary in itself.

One small object, less than a foot square (indeed human head sized) is allowed to take up the entire space in the cavernous Turbine Hall.

In the vast and deliberately darkened void looms a small black building, picked out with soft lights. It sits, discreet and self-important. A couple of ostentatious (armed) security guards loiter with intent. One is ushered round the back, out of sight where a terminus style queue worms itself packed and invisible in the shade. The queue is strictly controlled and lengthened by what appears to be a deliberate policy of delaying entry into the inner sanctum. The slower people are allowed to pass through, the greater the queue, the greater the ‘experience’ the greater the awe.

Finally one is allowed to enter a pitch-black room and there is the Aztec bling, picked out by a dozen pin-prick spots.

It struck me, that what was happening was an attempt, by a taxpayer funded body,

to grant this small object some form of secular divinity. The pomp and circumstance, the whole theatrical performance designed to create a denationalised crown jewel.

It left a distinctly deflated feeling. The children? They were antagonised and bored by the queue, didn’t understand what the fuss was about.


Anonymous said...

I was a bit awed by the skull - particularly that the jewels lined the sinuses/palate etc. I didn't realise that & liked.

Gawain Towler said...

Agreed that was not expected,a nd as I said, it had something. But the awe was in part manufactured by the setting and the lead up

Anonymous said...

Armed security? As in guns?

I didn't realise we English are allowed to carry guns.

Anonymous said...

Laurence Webb is dopey enough -in his 'fresh ides for London'-to suggest that public sculpture is the reason why pensioners can't pay their bills- why pick culture as the scapegoat? Do the large profits of the energy companies not have some bearing on this?
A party that reaches for its gun when it hears the word 'culture'isn't to be trusted- why would anyone want to live in a society that has no enrichment, or does not express itself creatively?
You won't understand everything immediately, you won't be entertained by difficult ideas, but if we give this up- what do we actually live in?

Gawain Towler said...


Public sculpture by and large is a money recycling scheme from the rate payer to a clique of self serving artistic elite.

When public art is designed largely to exclude rather than include the general public it is no surprise that there are many who question its worth and validity.

The arts are a vital part of Britain and its economic situation, but that does not excuse the public funding that currently exists. There are other way to encourage excellence than to do so with other people's money.