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<nettime> some good news from merry old England
Brian Holmes on Thu, 6 Nov 2003 11:41:25 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> some good news from merry old England


Shock art turns on the Tate

'I'd rather go to Alton Towers than Tate Modern,' says rebel artist Chapman

David Smith, arts and media correspondent
Sunday November 2, 2003
The Observer

They have turned shock and awe into an art form and set the agenda for the
tumult over the Turner Prize. Now the Chapman brothers have broken another
taboo by biting the hand that feeds them.

Jake Chapman, half of the pair dubbed 'the Brothers Grim', has unleashed
an excoriating attack on the Tate Modern and Saatchi galleries, accusing
them of threatening the future of art by bowing to the lowest common
denominator.

He called the Tate a 'monument to absolute cultural saturation' and said
he would rather take a ride at Alton Towers than look at some of its
contents. Charles Saatchi's gallery was 'simply an expression of one man's
ownership'.

Chapman attacked his fellow 'Young British Artists', saying they were part
of a growing cult of celebrity, and claimed some now use art as 'a symptom
of their ego'.

Although for centuries the world's greatest artists were forced to flatter
their patrons to scrape a living, the Chapmans clearly feel no obligation
to be polite about Saatchi, whose =A3500,000 purchase of their
installation Hell rescued them from impoverished obscurity.

The leading collector paid a further =A31 million for their Chapman Family
Collection of pseudo-ethnic wooden carvings and is now boosting their
status among Brit Art's biggest stars with a major retrospective at his
gallery on London's South Bank.

Jake Chapman was even more scathing about Tate Modern, despite the
brothers' attempt to win the Tate's flagship competition, the =A320,000
Turner Prize, launched last week at its sister gallery, Tate Britain.  
Among the brothers' Turner exhibits a sculpture entitled Death, depicting
two blow-up dolls in a graphic sex act, the subject of furious debate
since it was revealed by The Observer last week.

Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate director and chairman of the Turner judges,
seems unshockable when viewing art, but he may find it harder to dismiss
Chapman's disdain for Tate Modern, housed in the former Bankside power
station

Chapman said: 'You can see things at both the Saatchi and Tate Modern
which are bending, swerving towards a kind of lowest common denominator
which could have a very negative effect on the production of art itself.'

They were 'symptomatic of an increased sensitivity to a wider public
audience. It deskills the potential of serious, discursive art.

'Tate Modern is a monument to absolute cultural saturation. It's brazen
about parasitically adopting this old turbine factory so even from the
outside it's demonstrating the shift from industrialisation to this kind
of leisure time culture.

'The architecture has been produced so that you get this huge concussive
effect as you walk down the ramp. You feel very small in the face of the
magnitude of this cathedral. It sends messages for miles: this is
important, this is a sacred place, everything in here is sacred. Things
that are sacred aren't questioned, and that's the problem.'

He added: 'The idea of just ramming people up escalators to see art in
this kind of pacified way makes looking at art reducible to looking and
not thinking. I'd rather go to Alton Towers and go on a theme park [ride]
than go and look at some [Mark] Rothko paintings.

Chapman, interviewed for Channel 4's The Art Show, said the effect of some
works - such as Damien Hirst's shark, Chris Ofili's elephant-dung Virgin
and Marcus Harvey's Myra Hindley portrait - was blunted by the way they
were displayed in the Saatchi.

'Things there are trying to soften the blow for people who may be
unfamiliar with the notion that a work of art shouldn't necessarily be
pleasurable. So you get things like gold frames. You get things that are
trying to smooth the edges between the edge of the work and the walls.'

'Within that slightly domesticated, slightly ornamental environment the
work starts to dissipate. You can't work out the difference between the
edge of one painting, one sculpture and the kind of ornamentation that
creeps up the wall.

'It's just simply an expression of one man's ownership. The best strategy
would be to put every single piece of art that Charles Saatchi owns in, so
you don't get this sense that you are supposed to try and see one thing
separate from another. I think it should be completely like a junk shop.'

Jake, at 36 four years younger than his brother Dinos, also attacked the
celebrity culture of Brit Art, dominated by the likes of Hirst and Tracey
Emin, whose infamous unmade bed is in the Saatchi Gallery.

'The celebrity status has become more interesting than the work itself, so
the work becomes a trace element of the trajectory of famous people,' he
said.

'A lot of those artists believe that's the correct way in which the work
should be analysed: them first, then the work. They treat the work as a
symptom of their ego.'

The Saatchi Gallery declined to comment. A Tate spokesman said: 'Jake is
entitled to his view. The Turner Prize nominees are judged on their work
rather than any comments made to the media.'

The interview is to be shown on 'The Art Show' on Channel 4 at 7.30pm on
14 November.


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