Advent Xtra – Post-cultural hysteria & the marketing-entertainment complex #Xmas #Christmas #JohnLewis #Matalan #Primark

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It seems I’m behind the curve yet again. Just as I was starting to think about this year’s anti-Christmas commercialism satire, I find myself left standing at the starting line, once again.

Idly, I dropped by John Lewis’ website on 14th September 2015 only to find they have already stocked their online shop with a very healthy range of Christmas supplies. I haven’t seen any TV or newspaper adverts yet, so maybe this is just a “soft opening”, but I was a litle shocked at how early it is and how comprehensive is their range of Christmas essentials.

What’s more, and I am assuming they got this idea from me, for those happy shoppers who are uncomfortable about the religious aspect of Christmas, they also have a range of “Midwinter” goods to satisfy any middle-class atheists and pagans with disposable income.

As I’ve said before, I do not have it in for John Lewis in particular, but my attention was drawn to them by that mawkish and manipulative Monty the Penguin campaign last year. My response was Wally the Lonely Penguin.


I await this year’s campaign with baited breath.

A few days ago, a friend posted a message of frustration on Facebook about how she doesn’t want to hear anything about Christmas, either positive of negative, and I wholeheartedly agree, although I thought she was being a little premature.

Not so. The missus has just returned from our local Matalan, only to inform me that reindeer-shaped homeware is being stacked on the shelves and, according to the Manchester Evening News, Primark have already launched a range of tasteful Christmas jumpers.

When I say tasteful, I mean crass, of course.

This kind of cynicism is making us satirists redundant. It’s almost impossible to parody this anymore. Soon Christmas will be reminiscent of the US-sponsored policy of endless war, but as a continuous holiday season of middle-class, capitalist consumption.

Something I didn’t know (but Wikipedia sorted me out) is that in most Christian denominations, advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (not necessarily December 1st), meaning that this year it begins on 29th of November. However,“In the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite of the Catholic Church, Advent begins on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday after St. Martin’s Day (11 November).”

I had thought of conflating Halloween and Christmas into a kind of Advent Xtra, counting down from 1st October all the way to 24th December, but I am already too late.

The shame.

I await inspiration for my own Christmas satire, either self-incepted or as a response to the forthcoming pre-Christmas storm.

Stand by…


One day my plinth will come – Part 2 (Entry through the gift shop)

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Sheffield cathedral has just had a bit of a face lift and now the main front entrance is through a gift shop. No, really.

Back in 2011, the Cathedral had the fixed pews removed from the nave in order to make the space more flexible. It was ironically appropriate that the first commercial event that was hosted after the removal was the annual dinner for the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It seemed the priests had invited the money lenders back into the temple for dinner and drinks.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller‘s comments about the economic value of culture betray the pervasive nature of the Thatcherite ideology where you can “measure the price of everything and the value of nothing” to quote Tony Benn (at 3:16).

I originally got the idea for my Richard Bolam at 50 project from the Paolozzi at 80 major retrospective at the Dene Gallery in Edinburgh in 2004. The gift shop was crammed with pretty much every single product that could have a logo imprinted upon it. I bought a catalogue for the show but, ironically, the one thing that was missing was the one thing that I really wanted; A comprehensive coffee table book about Eduardo Paolozzi’s life and work. They also had an expensive café.

I must thank my good friend and artist Bryan Eccleshall who often acts as Virgil to my Danté, guiding me through the circles of contemporary art Hell so that I don’t have to go there. He drew my attention to this series of talks by Director of MIMA, Turner Prize judge and über-curator Alistair Hudson, and particularly the idea of the gallery as social space first and art space second.

I can’t deny a genuine admiration for Hudson’s clarity. However, where Hudson fails heroically is in the way he looks, the way he sounds and everything he says. Sounds harsh, I know, and contradictory, and I am not saying that he is either a bad person or wrong in any way. But what he represents is everything that is wrong with the art world / gallery / museum establishment.

Effete, apologetic, middle-class fucking liberals.

It takes one to know one, I guess, and the interesting contradiction here is that I agree with pretty much everything he means but disagree with pretty much everything he says. His example of responding to a collection by 3D scanning and printing a Christopher Dresser teapot is reminiscent of the Apple Watch adverts that show its functions as a product of its target demographic. None of the things that the Apple Watch does are things that any of us need to do, they are simply expressions of consumption perpetrated by the people who can afford to buy one.

Hudson’s idea of Museum 3.0 is an example of how Zinga might monetize Museum 2.0 for the Facebook generation. Many artists are already working in noodle bars to make a living, or serving overpriced coffee to hipsters. His examples show just how pervasive Maria Miller’s or Margaret Thatcher’s attempts are to see everything as an income stream, and how everything leads you back to the exit through a gift shop.

Hudson’s examples of how the gallery might work differently all pivot on an already accepted model. Rather than suggesting that artists run a noodle bar or make stuff to sell in the gift shop, how about getting rid of the fucking gift shop and the café and using the two rooms as gallery spaces for artists that don’t have a Master’s Degree in Fine Art or an artist’s statement that includes the word “trope”?


A donation I left at Sheffield Cathedral.

Having said all that, I am strangely hopeful for Sheffield Cathedral. When I was in there on 11th September 2015, I bumped into one of the curators from Museums Sheffield who was supervising the installation of contemporary fine art from private collections for the forthcoming city-wide “Going Public” show. This includes Jake & Dinos Chapman’s “Cyber-Iconic Man” (1996).

I am not one for starfucking nor indulging in personality-cult worship but I can’t deny a genuine thrill to be able to see something so powerful in a CofE chapel. I look forward to the complaints.

Whilst I am not qualified to comment on the financial motivations of the Church of England, I still wonder at their business model. I welcome the use of spaces outside the white cubes and it might be that rather than Jake & Dinos selling cock and cunt ramen in Museum 3.0, the next stage might be a full circle where people experience art like they did before the “Kantean model” became universal.

At home, in their everyday lives and in even in Cathedral X.

[This is part 2 of a much longer, unfinished contemplation on commercialisation, perceptions of value and exclusivity in the art world and beyond. Expect more parts plus revisions]

Someday my plinth will come (When is a turtle not a tortoise?) – part 1

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I always end up arguing with people about Meadowhall when it comes up in conversation. For those of you who have never been, Meadowhall is the vast temple of Mammon on the outskirts of Sheffield, indistinguishable from all the other out-of-town shopping centres located in areas of reclaimed industrial land. When it was originally proposed, the local planning authorities all said that Meadowhall would undermine the other shopping centres and they were right. Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield have all become poorer as a result.

“But at least you can park!” people say to me. Yes you can park, and now you have to.

Last week we went to The Hepworth gallery in Wakefield. We paid £5 for an hour and a half’s parking, but the exhibition was free. The day before we had paid £8 for three hours parking at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), but the exhibitions were free.

Actually no, it felt more like the exhibitions were included in the parking.

We also attempted to see the exhibition of Magali Reus’ work in the Hepworth’s new extension called The Calder. Unfortunately, the young man we met locking the door and leaving The Calder at 16.35 told us it had closed at 16.30, although the website says it opens until 5pm.

Yes, I know we could have stayed longer for those parking fees, but why would we if the exhibitions are closed? Both venues also also have nice cafés and a gift shops.

But the gallery spaces are actually the unproductive bits of these venues, so why open them at all? Why not just have a car park, a café and a gift shop and not bother with the gallery space or any art? We already have a working business model of places like that. They’re called garden centres.

Anyway, this leads me very conveniently to the Q-Park Charles Street car park, Sheffield, more commonly known as the “Cheesegrater“.


Q-Park Charles Street car park AKA “The Cheesegrater”.

Even if you know cheaper or more convenient places to park, I can strongly recommend it as a visitor attraction, nestled in the heart of Sheffield with good transport links and local amenities. It’s quite expensive but probably no more than YSP, and the helter-skelter access tunnel is a dizzying experience, superior to most art films or installations.

The Cheesegrater lacks a gift shop but there are lots of cafés and bars nearby and, with an irony even more potent than I could have imagined myself, at street level there is a casino.

Where am I going with all of this? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that I don’t really give a flying fuck about the gift shop or the restaurant or the café or the education room. What I want is for the The Calder to be open for the 25 minutes before it was due to close. I also want the Graves Gallery in Sheffield to be open seven days a week rather than five days a week for only five hours a day so that I don’t keep being disappointed and can take full advantage of my parking fees.

The organised criminals that form our current government (and the previous one) thought it a good idea to prop up the incompetence of our banks with £375 billion of “quantitative easing” (QE). Unfortunately, they failed to regulate it sufficiently and the banks have used it to throw onto their own speculative bonfires instead of lending it to businesses as they were supposed to.

I haven’t done the maths, but a single billion of that could have kept all the UK’s galleries and libraries open with extended hours for years to come. And free parking.

So it’s business as usual for the banks whilst the rest of the world burns. But if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

It seems that at my age I have very little prospect of ever being invited to exhibit in The Hepworth or The Calder or The Graves, but I can show my work there if I think a little more laterally, and here is a donation I made to The Hepworth.


If the Bank of England can print money, so can I, and here is a One-X bank note, issued by The New Bank of X. Each one is unique and serialized, and I hope it will be invested wisely.

In the real world we would call this a stunt, but in the world of contemporary art it would be classed as an “intervention”, something that interrupts or questions the status quo of its context.

I have decided to call this intervention Qualitative Easing (QE+) and expect a lot more of it to come (free admission).


On the way out, I decided to donate another One-X note. Anyone who knows anything about collectors’ markets will tell you that a rare single is valuable, but a rare pair is worth more than double the value of just one.

Unless, of course, there are another 374,999,999,998 of them.

[This is an excerpt from a much longer article about the economics of art and the perceptions of value, but life is short and I have decided to publish in bits, as and when I can make it make sense.]