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Art in a Material World



Damien Hirst
Ingo, Torsten
Installation at ‘Unfair’, Cologne
Gloss household paint on wall, chairs and twins
Dimensions variable
© the artist
Courtesy White Cube




Tate Modern


1 Oct – 17 Jan 10






A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


As Madonna once sang, ‘We are living in a material world.’ The grand dame of trash pop seems a fitting spokesperson for this ménage a trash of art in a post Warholian landscape littered with empty meanings and bulging wallets.  For an exhibition bursting with big names: Warhol, Kippenberger, Koons and that unholy trinity of ‘90’s Brit Art: Hirst, Emin and Lucas, this exhibition is decidedly thin on inspiration and signs of perspiration, but big on bucks. Not the kind of bucks you could understand anyone making for such, dare I say it, soul-less work, but obscenely huge amounts of money, for inconceivably banal work, certainly nothing worth celebrating.   

Warhol, Warhol everywhere. Nothing new in that perhaps, but I’ve never seen such a sorry set of Warhol artworks, fairly drooping with dullness – prints of Jagger, Jones (Grace), whoever and whoever. And whoever cares? Don’t get me wrong, I like Warhol, in his place, I savoured the marvellous Other Voices, Other Rooms exhibition at the Hayward detailing his fascination with celebrities and with celebrity itself. But Warhol’s shadowy wallpaper images of himself from floor to ceiling here, alongside of less than great pieces of work by Jeff Koons and other half baked offerings by similarly self-professed celebrity artists threatened to do the head in, and that was before we got to the monitor with the by then ex-Pop Art icon’s guest spot on American soppy sit-com Loveboat playing on it, over and over again, like a rolling washing machine drum. Appropriate, in light of the attempted brain-washing going on in this exhibit.

Like him or not, there is no denying that Warhol had the Midas touch, at least during his Factory heyday, and that he was willing to do whatever he could to keep himself in the public eye thereafter.



David Hockney 1974
Andy Warhol
Synthetic polymerpaint and silkscreen ink on canvas
40 x 40inches 
Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt


Somehow his flirtations with fame and the famous are, in hindsight still a lot more fascinating than the art-school shenanigans of say, Damien Hirst whose student work in his inaugural exhibition Freeze drew serious collectors.  Or, the money oriented ‘protests’ of Tracy Emin, whose concerns centre around well, Tracy Emin.

Somehow paying £12.50 to see discarded cardboard signs she and fellow art-shtick Sarah Lucas once had posted on their six-month experiment in commerce, aka Bethnal Green shop where they sold their work ‘when they were broke’ doesn’t seem justified. Nor does the room (with ‘warning, explicit material, must be 18’ on the door) full of detailed photos of the indoor and outdoor sexual proclivities of Jeff Koons and his once awfully wedded wife, Italian porn star/politician La  Cicciolina, entitled ‘Made In Heaven’ which debuted at the Venice Bienniale in 1990.

Speaking of women, in addition to Emin and Lucas whose artistic outpourings, particularly the cast-offs displayed here, are collectively about as exciting as stale bread, the female contingent in this exhibition is very poorly represented indeed, with the now aging, never inspirational or, exciting, Cosey Fanni Tutti, ‘glamour’ and porn model who displays photos of herself on the job(s) (I recently had the displeasure of seeing her beyond the altogether in Panic Attack: Art of the Punk Years at the Barbican) and Andrea Fraser, an ‘artist’ who rather dumbly professes to believe that having sex with a strange man who happened to be an art dealer in a generic hotel room before a rolling video camera, successfully represents the ‘marriage of art and commerce.’ Now there’s an original idea. Ho hum...There wasn’t exactly a queue for this plain brown wrapper display consisting of a lone video screen about the size of a portable telly atop a barren plinth, though the art ‘freaks’, should be there in droves once they sort out their evening macs, I mean wear. The Koons’ room certainly had more than its fair share of teenage boys, eighteen or no (would you want to card them?) lingering near its doorway. Fellow noughties artist Gavin Turk’s final year student project, a blue plaque dedicated to himself (who else?) hangs on the wall of the Emin/Lucas space alongside of his aging art-joke, Pop 1993, in which the artist himself appears in sculptural form in Sid Vicious’ ‘My Way’ regalia posed in an Elvis Presley stance. Interesting, but over-played as I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this piece displayed in YBA (Young British, now not so young, artists) exhibitions over the years.


Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas
The Shop
6 c-type prints
Each: 29 15/16 x 36 in.  (76.1 x 91.5 cm)
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2009
Photo: Carl Freedman
Courtesy White Cube

You could be forgiven for not being ‘with me’ at this point, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to be with me either at this exhibition, particularly when I encountered the rather scant representation of one of the few spontaneously creative artists of the latter part of the 20th century who was, actually hooked into the popular NY street culture around him to the point of being part of it - Keith Haring. Because this exhibition seems to want to stick within the parameters of art vs. commerce, in the recreation of Haring’s NY Pop Shop, there is little mention of the good works (on behalf of aides and other causes) he did outside of the art world and little mention of his actual artworks, apart from mass produced products like those sold in his shop and a few, very small framed ‘tags’ on the wall... Oh, and the T shirts Tate is selling at £25.00 a pop, (not available in the Tate shop) a far cry from the proportionately cheaper models Haring, who desired nothing more than to share his work with the masses, offered in his real shop.




Pop Shop

Keith Haring 

Keith Haring artwork © Estate of Keith Haring   
Photo by Charles Dolfi-Michels 



Then there are the dubious side-roads this exhibition takes, in order to create a diversion enabling the allusion that we are seeing something significant and diverse, such as the two white artists, calling themselves Pruitt Early, exhibiting tacky examples of the black-plotation era, posters and the like, complete with clueless sound bites loosely representative of the time, proof positive that they don’t really know of what they speak. No wonder critics called it racist. Stick to what you know, and if that doesn’t work, try instinct. Alongside of these stabbing forays into darkness is another ‘so what’ exercise in banality – which no exhibit should be without – a room full of Nazis, courtesy of Piotr Uklanski, of the cinematic variety in the guise of walls full of photos of famous actors playing SS men in scores of movies. A curiosity piece perhaps, but not something you’d want to see in an art gallery, other than the Venice Biennale where there is so much of everything that you could get away from it, and continue your search for something more or less, significant. At rock bottom on this heap of whatnots is Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled 2009, which is, you guessed it – a dead horse with a placard senselessly stuck into its side - so much for animal rights.

Then, in a space all his own is that golden idol of the contemporary art world, Damien Hirst, whose thirst for money is only equalled by his lack of original ideas. Given the record-shattering takings of his auction at Sotheby’s last year, (over £111 million) yes, you read that right, entitled, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at which ’23 brand new works revisiting old themes...with a new luxury twist,’ were sold to collectors with bags of money and a senseless hunger for more, I’d say Hirst shares their view. He subverted the saying ‘all that glitters is not gold’, by gold-plating his coveted art-works, some of which were displayed here, much to my and other animal lovers chagrin. False Idol 2008, a sadly beautiful albino calf in a glass case, its hooves encased in gold, The Kiss of Midas 2008, a gold encrusted canvas under which once- fluttering butterflies have been captured, gold flecks on some ‘revisited’ spot paintings referred to here, in their up-market incarnation as Aurothioglucose 2008, Memories of / Moments with You 2008, made of gold-plated steel and glass with manufactured diamonds. I hadn’t even cared when the identical twin blondes hired to sit under two of Hirst’s (or his assistants’) identical spot painting, on the wall of the previous room had left to take an identical break. Give me one (or two) good reason why I should. This rather obvious/humourless sight gag/gimmick was devised for the Cologne ‘Unfair’ art fair of 1992.


Damien Hirst
Household gloss and enamel paint on canvas
68 x 108 in
Photography by Sotheby's



And now for the grand finale, the hyper advertising/advertised world of Takashi Murakami whose candy coloured, girl laden landscape reeks with sickeningly commercial artificiality, and isn’t that the pointless tone of this lumbering exhibition? Kirsten Dunst, a white, blue-wigged, girlie singer in a gaudy outfit, screeches a pale imitation of The Vapours seminal 80’s pop hit, ‘Turning Japanese’, while a whole city full of adoring Japanese girls and boys look on in OTT mock awe – blaringly blinding banality notched up to eleven.

Are really just a bunch of sheep that could be lead over a cliff if the ‘right’ people told us jumping’d be a great idea? Judging by the disgruntled, perplexed, amused and/or bored/ ‘in the know’ looking faces around me at this exhibition, I’d say no, not all. 

£12.50 (concession £10.50)

020 7887 888

Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG



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