Imagine: The year of Anish Kapoor, BBC1
Where is Modern Art Now? BBC4
The Art on Your Wall, BBC1
There was an awful lot of art on the BBC last week, starting with a portrait of a charmer
Sunday 22 November 2009
You may well have heard of Anish Kapoor's giant, chrome-finished installation in Chicago, Cloud Gate. Do you know how much it cost? $23m (£14m)! And they have to buff it every day to keep it shiny!
Apparently the cost of the project rose from $3m, which is the kind of overrun that might have had the citizens of Chicago marching on city hall with torches and nooses. But no. Instead, if Imagine: The Year of Anish Kapoor is to be believed, they turn up in their thousands every day to "ooh" and "aah" at Cloud Gate's wonderfully slinky reflections of themselves and the skyline of Chicago; meanwhile Mayor Richard Daley went all misty-eyed at the mere mention of his new bezzy mate, Anish.
After an hour in the company of Kapoor you might well believe that he could seduce an entire city. Poor Alan Yentob stood no chance as he padded round after the artist while he prepared work to occupy a good chunk of the Royal Academy for his current exhibition there. In one revealing scene, Kapoor arrived in a Dutch warehouse to find a crew of chain-smoking shipbuilders standing in what looked not unlike the world's biggest vagina – all their own work, on behalf of Kapoor, and after a bat of his eyelids and a swish of his salt and pepper locks, they were blushing like schoolgirls. And what art it was: gleaming and dripping, oozing and flashing, boggling the eye to play with your perception of depth. You could say something similar of Kapoor himself: at one point, Yentob was seen slumped beside an enormous lump of wax, entirely forgetting to ask the impish artist what lay behind his genius.
I'm not sure where Kapoor would have fitted into Gus Casely-Hayford's survey Where is Modern Art Now? Casely-Hayford breezily characterised the bulk of the Young British Artists as market-chasing opportunists, and suggested that, by contrast, the new generation are putting "practice before profit". Sadly, he concluded, after a summer spent hopping between Hoxton and Peckham, many of the newbies are just young fogies: mannered, dull and cautious. "I'm genuinely shocked," he told us, "at not being shocked". The result was possibly not what he intended: the first bout of nostalgia for Britart and the antics of Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin et al. Or, more specifically, their piss-ups. A few grainy video shots hinted that the YBAs knew exactly how to put the art into party. Meanwhile, the gatherings that Casely-Hayford shuffled round seemed full of hip and polite artists and their hip and polite art.
Beyond that, Casely-Hayford didn't have much by way of a new argument. Revolutionaries become reactionaries, he said, wheeling on Sir Anthony Caro who mischievously played his part, dismissing Tate Modern as "silly". And three of the YBAs – Michael Landy, Cornelia Parker and Grayson Perry – were interviewed as evidence that Britart had its impressively serious (and sober) exponents. But the programme seemed to view contemporary British art as entirely an academic phenomenon. What about those young artists who wouldn't be seen dead at Goldsmiths? At one point Casely-Hayford was seen walking past a fantastically graffiti'd wall. But he didn't stop to look.
On his hall stairs, my late father-in-law had one of those prints of little kids with big eyes doing naughty-cute things (peeing against a tree in this case). He also had Wings of Love, by Stephen Pearson, that Sixties classic with the swan scooping up a strangely calm man on one of its outstretched wings while his lady looks on. In The Art on Your Wall we were reminded that the art we put up in our downstairs bathrooms or over the damp patch in the dining room is a universe away from the art of the galleries and big institutions. Indeed, today we buy millions of art prints annually from Ikea, Argos, Habitat and their like. But sweetly, our relationship with these mass-produced, sentimental, escapist works is anything but sophisticated. Towards the end of her humdrum survey of Tretchikoff and his heirs, the presenter Sue Perkins spoke to young couple Matt and Nathalie – Matt's copy of the Lakes landscape Ullswater had helped her fall in love with him. It was quite touching, all the more so because Ullswater is the best-selling work of art in Britain for the past 15 years. We don't much about art, but, altogether now, we know what we like.
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