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Declaration of Art

The Art World has been lying to us.  We’ve always known that stacks of bricks, sharks in tanks and unmade beds aren't art.  But the Art World tells us that they are. They all spring, they say, from the Urinal, which Duchamp submitted to an exhibition claiming anything can be a work of art if an artist says it is.  But scholars have known for three decades that Duchamp was lying.  The Urinal wasn’t submitted by him, but by a woman poet. It wasn’t an attack on art, but was a powerful work of art in itself. 

Everyone knows that art can be created out of any materials if they’re imaginatively transformed, like Picasso’s Bull’s Head made from a bicycle saddle and handlebars or Dali’s Lobster Telephone. Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s Urinal, laid on its back, evokes the shadowy form of a veiled Madonna, an image of peace.  It was her furious protest against America joining the First World War in 1917. She signed it R. Mutt, a pun on urmutter, meaning her German motherland. She was telling America, which she considered to be a men’s club (i.e. a gents), ‘Don’t piss on us’. It was the first great feminist work of art.

Duchamp stole Elsa’s urinal long after she was dead, and robbed it of its heartfelt meaning.  He then sold replicas of it and turned in into an attack on all visual creativity.  Conceptual Art is founded on this con.  The Art World has long known that Duchamp didn’t do the urinal but they continue to lie to us that he did.  The nine urinal copies in museums around the world should be relabeled as Elsa’s, and Conceptual Art should be consigned to recycling bins, where its worthless junk belongs.

Works of art can’t just be found. They are lovingly wrought creations that communicate our profoundest feelings across the luminous, immaterial sphere that is our shared consciousness.

The next new thing in art … is Art.

Image by Sergey Jakovsky


From Tracey Emin’s unmade bed to Damien Hirst’s diamond-studded skull, the work of Britain’s avant garde artists has been lauded and derided down the years in almost equal measure. But now one of the country’s leading arts figures is to launch a ferocious attack on work that “rejoices in being incomprehensible to all but a few insiders”.

In a lecture on “the purpose of the arts today”, to be delivered on Monday in London, Julian Spalding, a former director of three of Britain’s foremost museums and galleries, will say that the public purse should only fund work that is “both popular and profound, as truly great art is”. He will also criticise the supporting of works that appeal “to a self-congratulatory in-group”.

By 2015, the Arts Council will have “invested” £2.4bn of funds from the government and the National Lottery over a four-year period. According to Spalding, state arts funding should be restricted to subsidising “peaks in our shared culture” – such as King Lear, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – rather than the “rarefied delights” of artists such as Jeff Koons and Hirst, who he says create “sham, glittering ornaments of an amusement-arcade culture”.

Spalding has form in this debate. When director of galleries in Glasgow, Sheffield and Manchester, he staged exhibitions of Beryl Cook and LS Lowry, artists who are loved by the public, but despised by the avant garde. In 2012, he challenged the Tate’s director to justify spending taxpayers’ money on a Hirst exhibition, suggesting that Hirst’s works “aren’t art”.

Spalding said that great art cannot be predetermined to tick boxes on funding application forms: “No government money should be spent on trying to influence the creation of art. The arts have to be personally felt.”

Spalding was astonished that the nation spent £535,000 on Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s ship in a bottle in Trafalgar Square, describing it witheringly as a “crassly designed … ocean one-liner floating on a sea of public funding”. He despairs, too, at the Tate’s acquisition of “very expensive cutting-edge art”, such as Martin Creed’s Turner prize-winning flickering light installation and Roelof Louw’s oranges pile, which each cost tens of thousands of pounds.

A Tate spokesman said that purchases of artworks for the national collection are made with income that is self-generated, including donations: “Tate’s programme is a balance of historic, modern and contemporary art and includes well-known names such as Turner and Matisse, alongside less well-known historic and contemporary artists. Tate acquires work by artists who are critically acclaimed both nationally and internationally.”

Whether works were acquired from public or private purses is irrelevant, Spalding said, as museums should always acquire art that will last. He said that although the Turner prize exhibitions draw large crowds, it is mainly because of the hype that surrounds them: “What else can they go to? They’re not given a choice.”

There is an intellectual snobbism among the arts establishment, Spalding said: “Arts administrators despise popularity”, assuming that it can’t be any good. “And it’s just wrong, totally against my experience of … museums.”

In his talk, Spalding will say that the state should build on success in the arts by making them more accessible: “Someone in government, for example, needed to develop a way of building on the success of Les Misérables [the musical] to interest many more in reading novels.” He applauds the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for bringing opera to millions with worldwide cinema screenings of its productions, and asks why the BBC has not replicated this for theatre productions. He calls, too, for museums and galleries to bring out masterpieces from their vaults instead of “sitting on vast treasures of art that are never seen”.

The Observer | Sunday 30th November 2014

Ex-gallery chief derides ‘crass’ modern art

Forget Hirst or Emin – the nation should be funding artists loved by the public, says leading arts figure Julian Spalding

Julian Spalding was astonished that the nation spent £535,000 on Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s ship in a bottle, which was installed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2010. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

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