Charles Darwent on Art Everywhere: Look out! Someone's trying to sell you art


The money behind this project to publicise the nation’s favourite artworks would have been better spent on helping cash-strapped institutions

I have seen precisely one of the works in Art Everywhere, which, depending on how you look at it, is 1.75438596 per cent of the exhibition, or 0.00454545 per cent if you count reproductions of its reproductions.

Neither, statistically, seems adequate for a review. On the other hand, a quick scan of the show’s website suggests I have seen 85.9649123 per cent of the originals from which these reproduced reproductions were made, which may improve my chances.

As you’ll probably have read, the founder of Innocent Drinks and others have taken 22,000 advertising spaces around Britain – billboards, supermarket displays, London buses – on which, for a fortnight, to display 57 works of British art, or rather posters of those works.

These were chosen from the project’s website by public vote – 30,000 people entered – the uneven final number explained by the fact that seven of the 50 pictures originally meant to be selected came in tied. The nation’s favourite artwork turns out to be John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, with Millais’s Ophelia a close second. What this taste in images of dying, waterborne, posh madwomen has to say about the national psyche, I will leave you to judge. 

There are so many assumptions underlying Art Everywhere that it is hard to know where to start with them. The first, presumably, is that the voters who chose the works will have been as British as the works themselves, although, the internet being what it is, this must surely have been impossible to police. Perhaps all those votes for drowning dames came from Spaniards, in revenge for Gibraltar.

Then there is the apparently demotic nature of the process, with Joe (or José) Public free to choose at will from all the works in British collections. This was not quite the case. Before mere people were allowed to vote, those millions of publicly owned artworks had been whittled down to a longlist of just over a hundred by a committee of curators and other artfolk.

This explains why, for example, the Scottish painter Jack Vettriano did not place first (or at all) in the Art Everywhere selection, despite being the most widely reproduced living British artist. It also suggests why, of the 57 works chosen, not a single one is religious (and certainly not Christian), unless you count Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows and Raeburn’s wintry vicar, Rev Dr Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch.

I am willing, sadly, to believe that the hold of the Pre-Raphaelites over the national taste persists. But – on grounds of familiarity, and if free to choose – would the public not have gone for William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World rather than the far less well known Waterhouse? It doesn’t ring true, somehow. Neither does the cheerily multicultural, multiracial, pacifist, atheist view of British society that seems to emerge from Art Everywhere’s final list, much as one might wish it were so.Underlying all of these is what you might call a meta-assumption, more depressing, and more convincing, than the rest: that modern Britons look at ads, but do not look at art.

The one Art Everywhere work I have seen in, as it were, real life is a poster of John Singer Sargent’s frieze-like canvas, Gassed, a group of blinded Great War Tommies leading each other through the trenches. I cannot tell you how good this poster is, since it is hung from a railway viaduct over a busy road near my home. Quality of reproduction is not the point. But what is?

Well, the point – or the hope – is that commuters driving or cycling by will be struck by the Athenian horror of Sargent’s image and want to know more about it. This they can learn, in less precariously placed posters, by downloading an app on their mobile phones and pointing them at the image. If you could get close enough to my local Gassed, it would tell you, among other things, that the original painting is just half a mile away, in the Imperial War Museum. You will, then or later, turn your car or bike towards the museum to see it for yourself.

I do hope I’m wrong, but won’t people see Art Everywhere’s posters as advertisements, and advertisements as suspect? How different, in the public mind, an ad for Ophelia is from an ad for a bra is a moot point. Then there is the £3m that the billboard owners donated in kind to the project. I am reminded of John Wanamaker, father of modern marketing: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted,” Wanamaker said. “The trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Even £1.5m would have made a difference to many of the bodies with works in this show.

To 25 Aug (

Critic's Choice

As part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, Peter Doig entrances with painting that combines traditional skills and a contemporary world view in No Foreign Lands at the Scottish National Gallery (until  3 Nov). At Tate Modern in London, the small and beautiful show dedicated to the veteran Lebanese modernist Saloua Raouda Choucair continues until 20 October. The artist draws on mathematics and poetry from her cultural heritage.


Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower