Emin, Hirst & Banksy – who deserves to be in the news?

26 December 2011 § Leave a comment

It seems appropriate that three of the most notorious names of recent years have been in the news recently and have appeared there for widely different reasons. Tracey Emin has just been appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, Damien Hirst has announced new exhibitions of his entire spot paintings and Banksy has just donated a ‘controversial’ work to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. Only one should be meaningful to the art world.

Here are three very different artists that have taken key roles within the mass media as representatives of the contemporary art world. Their ‘notoriety’ has been neatly pigeonholed by the press. Tracey Emin for her raw and sexual autobiographical work, the unmade bed, the ‘how can this be art’ tabloid diatribe. She is the bad girl made good. Damien Hirst for his blatant money-making approach and mass-produced work – symbol of the commercialisation of art. The bad boy made rich. Banksy for his anonymous (despite the fact that everyone knows who he is – it’s just that nobody wants to spoil the game) gallery ‘interventions’ and graffiti. The naughty boy turned film producer.

The board of the Royal Academy has just appointed Emin as Professor of Drawing. Although she has been quite cosy with the RA for some years her appointment is a surprise to me. After all she is famously inclusive with her attitude to method –  she paints, draws, embroiders, sculpts, etches, assembles, works in neon and much more. She told us for her Hayward solo show that her work ‘is about words’. Her drawing is OK – if you like repeated drawings of Emin masturbating. Actually I am being overly critical – her drawing is quite good but hardly the stuff of RA professorship. This is an appointment that smacks of some combination of internal/external politics, inclusivity (she is the first female professor in RA history) and media attention.

Hirst meanwhile, as commercial as ever, will next month be showing his entire output of spot paintings at 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide when over 300 variations of the painting series that he first produced in 1988 will be shown. He announced them finished in 2008 but (his ‘factory’) continues production, currently working on a painting that contains two million spots. I hope you can contain your excitement – just one of these appalling ‘paintings’ is enough for me. Yawn.

Up in Liverpool, just in time for Christmas, the Walker has announced the permanent loan of a piece by Banksy. Entitled Cardinal Sin an 18th Century replica stone bust has had its face sawn off and glued on is a selection of bathroom tiles. The resulting ‘pixellated’ portrait is a very neat comment on the abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and its on-going cover-up.

The one significant piece of news? Whilst Emin has become part of the establishment and Hirst regurgitates his poorest work (easiest to make?) only Banksy – who I have had mixed feelings about to date – produces something of worth. Further this is his best work to date by far – away from quaint political slogans and clever graffiti he has made a Museum quality work. As he says “The statue? I guess you could call it a Christmas present. “At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.” Brilliant. Re-spect.

[ps – apologies for a prolonged absence in December – moving house!]

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