One day my plinth will come – part 3 – Where do we go from here?

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“One thousand years from now, there won’t be any [artists] and there won’t be any [curators], just wankers. Sounds [post-cultural] to me.” – paraphrase from “Trainspotting” 1993 Irvine Welsh

Just when you think that middle-class gentrification can get no more pervasive, monocultural or masturbatory, we are presented with the winner of the Turner Prize 2015.

(This blog post is part of a much longer, rambling and unfinished contemplation on the state of galleries, museums and the arts. Part 1 & 2 are here and here and if you are in any way interested, expect more and possibly revisions. Maybe it will turn into something more coherent.)

2015’s Turner Prize was a long time ago, I know, but I stopped watching anything to do with art prizes many years ago. More specifically, I stopped paying any attention to the Turner Prize when I turned 50 and became ineligible for it (obvs). Strange to be of an age where I feel that I am just beginning to get into my stride, but in the UK I am considered past-it already.

Anyway, fogies like me might be a little behind the zeitgeist, but what I lack in punctuality, I try to make up for in attitude. The Turner Prize 2015 was won by a design / architecture collective called Assemble, and choosing an organisation like this rather than a lone genius artist might sound radical, until you see what they do.

To be fair on Assemble, there is nothing wrong with what they do, and I don’t say that to damn them with faint praise. What I mean is, they appear to be doing genuinely good work, but why is it the subject of a fine art prize?

Well, you only need to look at the list of judges to turn up, amongst others, Alistair Hudson (whom I’ve indicted him before) and Jan Verwoert (curator of the mind-numbingly tedious & incoherent Art Sheffield 2008).

That Assemble won a prize for their work is not the issue, what bothers me is what it indicates about the state of the fine art establishment, and the bland, consumerism that the likes of Hudson & Verwoert are rewarding by selecting a bunch of hipsters (no offence)  who make things that do not offend anyone (except me obvs). I almost miss the pretentious nonsense of Steve McQueen (Turner Prize 1999), at least I could get properly angry about that. 2015’s winner is just dull.

It’s hardly surprising coming from curators who talk about people “engaging” with art, and I can imagine the judges’ meetings; not around a boardroom table or in the corner of a gallery, but gathered around a quinoa salad and a cheeky glass of prosecco.

One of Assemble’s projects is the Granby Four Streets CLT (Community Land Trust) which included setting up the Granby Workshop, run by local people in a Liverpool neighbourhood, to manufacture objets d’esire for middle-class consumers.

A couple of things mentioned in one of the newspaper articles I read at the time, were compressed sawdust cupboard handles (“hand smoked in Granby Workshop”) at £15 each and a pressed terracotta lampshade for £150.

Who spends £150 on a fucking lampshade? Not me, obvs, but how is that anything other than an expression of conspicuous consumption, and what the fuck has it got to do with art? It’s art for the Apple Watch generation: convenient, inoffensive and aspirational.

Depends on your definition of art, obvs. Back in 1994, the K Foundation (aka The KLF) burned £1 million pounds as a work of art, but I think they are still living to regret that particular aesthetic conceit. (Note-to-self: Be careful what you wish for.)


Here is my own contribution to the hipster market: reclaimed steel plant-pots in a range of sizes and finishes. Available now at surprisingly high prices.

The fundamental problem with this series of interviews (with Alistair Hudson here) is that they have been made at all. Axisweb is part of a much wider and poisonous conservatism that has co-opted contemporary art into nothing more than product for the disposable income of the middle-classes, and jobs for university-conditioned professionals.

Recently a friend and arts professional informed me that National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), the bodies regularly funded by the Arts Council, are granted money to run the buildings but none to commission or pay artists. So the director gets paid, the administrators get paid, the accountants and the cleaners get paid, but these days artists are expected to apply for their own funding or else work for nothing.

No wonder everyone is so keen not to offend.

Anyway, I know I must seem a little old-fashioned but my artistic sensibilities were forged in the wonder of childhood and patinated by the post-punk DIY aesthetic of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Not in the made-from-reclaimed-materials-and-sold-to-middle-class-liberals DIY aesthetic, but the made-from-whatever-was-available-and-sold-at-a-price-anyone-could-afford DIY aesthetic. My nascent excitement about art was founded in the impossible insanity of its complex, inexplicable and unknowable chaos, not a rationalised business model and a carefully worded artist’s statement.

In those days, vinyl singles (yes, gramophone records) sometime had message like “Pay no more than 50p” printed on the sleeves, in an overt anti-commercial intervention. But times change and, in a post-Thatcher Britain, commodification, speculation & tax-efficiency are the Three Wise Consultants of the East End.

I understand that the video interviews of Alistair Hudson were made for a professional audience, and Hudson’s language is not for the hoi polloi, but the words that these people use gives away how they think.
(Oh dear. Googling to check the spelling of “hoi polloi” I stumble across the website of a restaurant of the same name. In Shoreditch, obvs.

Art was “participatory” before that word was used about it, and art was “socially-engaged” before that phrase had been coined, and “outputs” had been put out long before the Arts Council had required them as part of their end-of-project reports.

However, despite all my complaints about gentrification, commercialisation & ageism, what offends me most about the apologist capitalism and focus-group aesthetics of Assemble, or the media-friendly, pseudo-intellectualised reasonableness of Alistair Hudson is not that I feel disenfranchised by it, but that, if this is what fine art is going to look like and sound like in the future, it’s going to be just so fucking boring.


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.]

New Bank of X Get Rich Rich Quick Pyramid Networking Scheme – Day 2 – Infrastructure


Hand-cut mock-up of the top section.

I’m sure even the Pharaohs had moments of self-doubt.

It’s very common for artists to question their own motivation. For me, Day 2 was such a day, and I also got a bit distracted by Grayson Perry.

He didn’t call in, although I bet he’s got some junk to spare, but friends kept telling me about his series of Reith lectures so I thought I’d give it a whirl. You can listen online or download:

He’s a great speaker but I’m not sure if it helped or not. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just the fringe of the fringe.

Anyway, having got a lot further with the construction than I thought I would on day one, on day two I feel I am short of junk. I’m not really worried about that, the world is awash with unwanted, underused and unvalued items so I am sure I can improvise nearer the finish time. More importantly, I need to get the bit of it finished that I can’t do entirely for myself, and that’s the laser-cut penthouse donation box.

I used to be a professional computer programmer, but that was in the 90s, and although I’ve used algebra and trigonometry more than most since my school days, I still felt a bit rusty when it came to calculating angles and distances. Like most ungrateful children, it’’s only in my middle years that I begin to appreciate my institutional education.

Fortunately, Pythagoras has not abandoned me and the calculations were actually quite easy, although I did double-check everything.

Here is an adapted comparison chart I found on Wikipedia (Creative Commons, original here.).

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After calculating the dimensions of the top section, I decided to make a hand-cut, cardboard mock-up in order to test it out (above) and, in the spirit of recycling, reusing and repurposing, managed to skip-raid some waste cardboard from the Showroom Cinema’s bin store.

My calculations seem to be correct, although I think my tolerances are not exactly on a par with the ancients, but It’s close enough for me to get away with it. In Egypt, I think I might have been better employed in ceremonial event-planning rather than surveying the monumental architecture. Also, the building of The Great Pyramid pre-dates photography by about 4.5 thousand years and is estimated to have taken between 10 and 20 years to complete, but wouldn’t that have been a time-lapse project to die for? Perhaps literally.