A New Concise Reference Dictionary and Glossary of Usage Terms and Subjects in Contemporary Art A-Z, by Neal Brown

An irreverent guide to the idiosyncracies of the art world

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The Independent Culture

For some time a holy grail in the specialised world of art publishing has been the production of an accessible A-Z guide explaining the arcane world of contemporary art to the general reader.

Several attempts have passed through my hands; this one brings something entirely new to the genre. Consider, for example, how helpful this definition would have been when you wandered in error into Regent’s Park in October and found yourself lost in a labyrinth, surrounded by the members of a previously unencountered tribe:

“Art fair: A system of replicating wooden booths densely situated within an artificially lit barnlike construction… The booths are situated on parallel lines that appear to meet at the furthest point of a perspectival infinity. At this imaginary point status foodstuffs are made available.”

And so on. But who are those “very large and florid” figures situated within the booths, uttering “a loud sing-song cry or chant to attract attention”? Art dealers, of course. “Humans share 98 percent of their DNA with the chimpanzee,” Neal Brown explains, “but dealers will only share 50 percent plus framing costs.” Over there, an emerging artist. “The artist emerged about 11.45 am, blinked fearfully in the light, went back in the house. Was seen re-emerging at about 1.15pm and going to the pub to purchase crack-cocaine.”

As we are near the zoo, a definition of baboon is obviously needed. “A large monkey with a long face, doglike teeth, large lip and buttock callosities. Vocal in expressing its dislike of good contemporary art… When on TV, can be seen putting its fingers in its own ano-genital region and bringing them to the nose to smell. Will charge a small fee for public appearances, with which it buys drink.”

Phew. Who can he mean? Brown, the reader may suspect (oh alright I know, I’ve met him), is an original thinker, who has somehow managed to preserve his intellectual outsider status at the centre of the art world through his quirkily esoteric interests. The world he portrays is best perceived via a sideways glance.

I disagree with the claim in Matthew Collings’ amusing foreword that “the book you are about to read won’t tell you anything useful about art”. On the contrary, the quality of misinformation it contains is endlessly helpful. I loved the way the “Ks” – Kossoff, Koons and Kahlo – shuffle identities. When we reach the letter “W”, Brown even provides pronunciation notes; hence “Water (wor-ta): At capitalist private views champagne is usually served without charge, but basic water will cost £2.50 a small bottle.”

Scabrous, savage, surreal and, above all, hilarious (hill-air-ee-us).