The Week in Arts: The shock of the newly sensitive artist

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Tonight the art critic Robert Hughes presents
The New Shock of the New on BBC2. The world's most famous art critic will survey the state of contemporary art, something he did 25 years ago with his TV series,
The Shock of the New.

Tonight the art critic Robert Hughes presents The New Shock of the New on BBC2. The world's most famous art critic will survey the state of contemporary art, something he did 25 years ago with his TV series, The Shock of the New.

What we will not see is any film of Damien Hirst's most recent work. Hughes wanted to show footage in tonight's show of Hirst's exhibits in the very recent Tate Britain exhibition, but the ageing enfant terrible of contemporary art refused him permission to film any of his exhibits in the show. Hirst's spokesman, according to Hughes, told him: "Damien is very fragile to criticism". Under no circumstances could Hirst's exhibits in the Tate show be filmed for Hughes's programme.

Hughes concluded witheringly in an article this week: "Better to discourage anything being said about the great work than risk the utterance of dissent or doubt."

I confess to being shocked when I learned that permission to film was refused. In fact, I was more shocked by this than I have been by any piece of contemporary art. What we have here is our public service broadcaster unable to show footage of an exhibition which was open to the public at a gallery which is funded by the taxpayer.

And it's even worse than that. For what we also have here is an artist whose entire career has been based on outrage and provocation taking fright when a venerable critic wants to be provocative about his work.

Yet, for me, even Hirst is not the worst offender in this saga. That honour goes to the Tate. If any institution in this country has staked its integrity on promoting debate about contemporary art, it is, of course, the Tate. If any gallery director has put himself forward as the champion of such debate, it is the Tate's director (and chairman of the Turner Prize jury) Sir Nicholas Serota. How could Sir Nicholas and his institution possibly connive in stifling debate about Britain's best known contemporary artist? How could they possibly connive in not allowing the cameras to come in? Why do they not insist that anyone exhibiting in the gallery must allow the works to be filmed for broadcast at any time, not just for the initial exhibition publicity?

I put this to the Tate's press office, which reminded me that all art is in copyright until 70 years after the artist's death. And, if Hirst doesn't want his installations filmed, that's up to him. I asked whether this was not contrary to the spirit of debate about contemporary art which the Tate was supposed to promote. But the telephone line must have had a fault, because there was no answer.

Those sickly rock-star moments

Success is a tough thing. Star after star discovers that it brings with it the paparazzi and those morning-after photographs in the newspapers of indiscreet canoodling in a dark corner of a glitzy nightclub. So it is refreshing to find that the complaints of Robert Smith of the rock band The Cure concern a different type of morning-after picture.

He tells Uncut magazine in its August issue: "Wherever we went in the world, people would just come up to us. I was very uncomfortable with that. Every time you collapsed, someone would take a picture of you. The last thing you'd remember was 'Oh no, someone's just photographed me as I was being sick all over myself.' There was a sense that I couldn't do anything without other people being involved."

A chap can't even throw up without having to share it with the world. I've not heard that complaint about fame before. But in its way, it's probably a lot more distressing than being snapped with a groupie by a photographer with a telephoto lens.

¿ Why people don't go to the theatre, number 124: A few days ago, I decided to see the RSC's Othello, starring Antony Sher. It is on at the Trafalgar Studios in London, a venue run by the Ambassadors Theatre Group. My call to book tickets was "held in a queue" for half an hour. Was it tea-break time? I'm afraid I don't believe there is a half-hour's worth of calls fighting to book to see Shakespeare. However, the phone message did direct me to a website - which informed me unhelpfully that the night in question was "not available for booking online". Perhaps the RSC and Ambassadors Theatre Group don't actually want people to see the production. Certainly this punter gave up and watched a movie instead.

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