Meanwhile in Minneapolis

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The Independent Culture
"All aboard, room for one more upstairs..." Three British bobbies were lined up like a Gilbert and Sullivan chorus, the incongruity of their bus conductors' cries compounded by their accents, an unholy melange of cockney and Minnesotan. Actors playing PCPlod were the least of this event, the opening of "Brilliant! New Art from London", the most hyped show in America, let alone Minneapolis. Here was the first major retrospective of young British art, but in a city few Londoners could locate, in the heart of America's conservative farmland. This incongruity was evident at the opening Punk & Circumstance party with Mid-western versions of everything from guardsmen to a "Jungle" rave, even a British makeover room where locals were transformed "from Mod to Punk and back again". There were scandalous souvenir photos, "Your mug in the tabloids", darts " in the British pub tradition" and a Brit lookalike competition resulting in many bowlers and brollies, yet won by a soccer hooligan with a Union Jack head. This wackiness and the booming backbeat of Cockney Rebel made the work itself seem tame, whether Damien Hirst's dots or Rachel Whiteread's mattress, lost in the excesses of jokey nationalism.

The odd location in fact makes perfect sense. Richard Flood who curated "Brilliant!" previously ran the Manhattan gallery that first showcased these Londoners in America, and by charmed co-incidence, exactly 30 years ago the Walker gallery hosted "London: the New Scene". This 1965 show was a culmination and summation of British Pop, from Allen Jones and Peter Blake to Bridget Riley, but soon afterwards this supposed scene quietly dissolved, with many, like Hockney, staying in America. In fact, the artists in "Brilliant!" are a far more genuine group - friends who live, work and sleep together - than the 1965 team ever were and the idea of moving to America, magical back then, now seems faintly provincial.

Whether such major museum retrospectives automatically signal the end or no, it will certainly be hard to mount more such shows without a certain irony or embarrassment. By the evidence of the long weekend that kicked off "Brilliant!", it seems there is still plenty of energy left in the "Teen UK art-terrorist" trope, if only in terms of the participants' social stamina. If the hooligan is Britain's most familiar overseas representative, our plastic artists have a not entirely dissimilar reputation abroad. It seemed appropriate, and perfect PR, that a group of them were ejected from a bar for table dancing towards dawn.

Nineteen of the 22 hipsters had been flown out and the entire shenanigans were subsidised by Beck's beer, launching its arts sponsorship in America. For 10 years Beck's has been ubiquitous at every modish London art event and for this symbolic recapitulation it provided not only lavish funds but also their rare artist labels, six-packs of which were carried off by wily American collectors. The presence of these collectors, including an elderly Californian couple who hosted yet another party for their proteges, was proof positive of the official status of the London phenomenon. This confluence of wealthy, elderly Americans with brash and highly specific London work could seem improbable, but the strength of these artists is exactly their cultural specificity, unlike those of 1965 whose iconography was more American than British.

The achievement of "Brilliant!" was to put together such diverse and often deliberately scrappy work in a cohesive framework, to make it museum- worthy while not dulling its combative iconoclasm. The result was altogether convincing, ideal white rooms filled with strange sounds, visual and psychic jolts, Matt Collishaw's Widow, a black-veiled loudspeaker emitting loud female weeping, Adam Chodzko's Secretors, synthetic teardrops oozing from the ceiling, Jake and Dinos Chapman's vast fibreglass model of Stephen Hawking on the top of a mountain, wreathed in dry ice. The impeccable interior was constantly challenged and subverted by the hundred or so works. Flood's taste is for the most provocative rather than elegant of British art and there was plenty to shock the natives. In fact, the all- sports radio station, K-Fan, had a day-long debate about Tracey Emin's Everyone I Have Ever Slept With - 1963-1995, a small tent with a surprising number of names sewn within. The show stretched across the city, one of the most challenging works located in an old factory, Michael Landy's Scrapheap Services, a recycling company for humans, complete with uniforms and shredder, an overt attack on privatisation.

In 1965 one British newspaper called "The New Scene" "... an exhibition which should never have been organised". We can only be grateful "Brilliant!" has been so coherently conceived and impeccably executed, at least ensuring young London art can now go out with a bang, albeit a Midwestern one.

n `Brilliant!' is at the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis until 7 Jan 1966