David Lister: The Week in Arts

You couldn't make it up - but they do

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The highlight of the Beck's Futures exhibition at the ICA was not the winner, who was announced on Wednesday. Matt Stokes's video of a soul night in a church in Dundee was no doubt worthy of the top prize. As Miss Jean Brodie said: "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like." But for me the highlight was an exhibition of pop memorabilia from the 1970s glam rock band Lustfaust.

You remember Lustfaust, a sort of hybrid of Bowie and Roxy Music with a touch of typically German electronica. Well, actually you don't remember them, because they never existed. The exhibit by one of the Beck's runners-up, British conceptual artist Jamie Shovlin, is a fake. There never was a Lustfaust, as he admitted to The Independent earlier this week.

That's bad news for Waldemar Januszczak, the esteemed, award-winning cultural commentator of The Sunday Times. He told his readers last month how Lustfaust "cocked a notorious snook at the music industry in the late 1970s by giving away their music on blank cassettes and getting their fans to design their own covers. There's also an interview with the band's surviving guitarist... It all makes for creepy and fascinating viewing".

He concluded that when it came to who would win the Beck's prize he would "go for Shovlin's tribute to the noisy Lustfaust".

Actually, I don't blame him one bit. I missed seeing the Lustfaust tribute, but I suspect that if I had seen it I would have quickly convinced myself that I dimly remembered them and even had one of their tracks on a Seventies compilation at home. The arts are too large a field for any of us to be aware of everybody. And as it is a field not exactly without its share of pretension, it is a faker's paradise.

I once exposed one of the more famous examples of cultural faking. The novelist William Boyd in the Nineties wrote a book about the New York artist Nat Tate who committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island ferry. The book was launched at a lavish do in Jeff Koons' studio in Manhattan at a party hosted by David Bowie.

Nat Tate, as I revealed in this paper just after that glitzy book launch, neither lived nor died. He was an ingenious fantasy by Boyd. A few weeks ago, a TV company filmed a programme looking back on this episode, and I took part in it. There was great difficulty, though, in finding anyone who would confess to having been taken in. Though David Bowie's party was packed with art critics and bigwigs from the New York art world, and none of them raised a whisper at the time, all now claim to have been suspicious. That is the thing with cultural cons. No one likes to admit being caught out.

But we should all be more relaxed about it. In 50 years' time, Shovlin's exhibit on Lustfaust might still be around, and no one will clearly know then whether they existed or not. They might even be more famous by then than some genuine glam rockers. Lustfaust's memorabilia are now documented and chronicled. Whereas, the Sweet? I think they existed, but they may have been a figment of the imagination during a bout of fever.

Did that artist really destroy all his possessions in a former C&A store on Oxford Street recently as a piece of conceptualism, or was it an April fool? I can't quite remember.

That's the trouble with the arts. Most weeks, you just couldn't make it up. So, when someone does, there's no shame in being fooled. And if the fake turns out to be more interesting than the real thing, so much the better.

Angry old man

A new biography of the late John Osborne published this week recounts that one of his wives was asthmatic, so he used to pin her to the floor and breathe cigarette smoke down her throat; another wife tried to drown herself in the swimming pool, so he refused to intervene, and a guest had to dive in to rescue her; and he described another wife's suicide as "the coarse posturing of an overheated housemaid". He kicked his 16-year-old daughter out of the house for good because he judged her "criminally commonplace" with "no inner life whatever". And when his 87-year-old mother passed away, he said: "A year in which my mother died cannot be all bad."

Osborne is remembered as a major figure in 20th-century culture, the original angry young man, and the writer who changed theatre for ever with Look Back in Anger. He's fortunate that the private lives of playwrights are not considered remotely as newsworthy as the private lives of politicians, or he might well be remembered rather differently.

* There have been musicals about pretty much everything, but never one about the National Health Service. Until now. Next week in Plymouth we have NHS the Musical, which traces the health service from its birth to the present day. The songs have ever so catchy titles such as "The Morning Song of the Poor Hard-Pressed GP", though recent stories about GP earnings make that one sound out of date even before the first night. Perhaps the audience will sing "Money, Money, Money" over it.

But let's not knock the songs. Cole Porter never came up with lyrics like: "The nature of existence is that you're born to die/Though you may swallow vitamins and then detoxify/One day you'll need the National Health this much we prophesy/They'll find a pill when you're feeling ill and try to rectify."

Yes, that is one of the songs in the show, but maybe not one that the audience will come out singing.

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