The fine aroma of roast shark

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The Independent Online

The fire which has consumed so many of Charles Saatchi's works of art may have left the traditionalists unmoved, but the odd thing is that in modern quarters the mood is not one of sadness either. In fact, it has been greeted ecstatically by some critics as an art happening of the highest order.

The fire which has consumed so many of Charles Saatchi's works of art may have left the traditionalists unmoved, but the odd thing is that in modern quarters the mood is not one of sadness either. In fact, it has been greeted ecstatically by some critics as an art happening of the highest order.

"Just when the public was getting a little blasé about the way art was going," says BritCrit wunderkind Danny Serota (no relation), "they have been reminded of the 'happening' nature of new art by seeing it destroyed in this very meaningful way. It's almost as if the art was saying - 'You are starting to forget about us, so we we are going to remind you in a very forceful way that we exist, and the way we are going to remind you is by no longer existing.' It's a rather ironic suicide note."

How can a suicide note be ironic, unless suicide does not take place? But Danny Serota (no relation) is already theorising about the Saatchi fire.

"For most of us, a work of art exists only in the mind. We see a Chapman Brothers creation, we see a Damien Hirst concept, for maybe 20 minutes in our life. Right? Unless we own it. And even if you own it, like Charles Saatchi, you don't see it very often, especially if you keep it in a warehouse down the East End. So there you are, with a 20-minute exposure to a Damien Hirst. The rest of your life you experience that Hirst only in your memory. It doesn't have to exist physically. And now it really doesn't exist! It only exists in our memory! I think that's a sort of artistic triumph in its own right."

What does that mean? What is he talking about?

"What I am talking about," says a suddenly very serious Danny Serota (no relation), "is perhaps the most significant art event of this century. I am talking about an event which validates conceptual art. The destruction of this art consecrates it for all time. If it had survived, it would have been taken for granted and become trite. By perishing, it has become eternal."

Inspector Millmoss, the art-loving specialist from Scotland Yard, who is investigating the fire, tends, paradoxically, to agree.

"I am in charge of a special art squad which not only investigates art crimes but, if necessary, promotes them. And I think this fire is a much-needed shot in the arm for the increasingly dreary world of conceptual art. Who was it said that an incinerated Tracey Emin is more interesting than an untouched Tracey Emin?"

I don't know. Who was it?

"Well, me, actually," says Inspector Millmoss. "I also think the Chapman Brothers' piece called 'Hell' could not know any more fitting fate than the fires of damnation. Mmm - and what's that delicious smell? Could it be roast shark? Or a Damien Hirst sheep on the spit?"

Those who accuse Inspector Millmoss of bad taste should remember he is a cutting-edge policeman, on the side of art as shock. Whenever photographs of naked children are seized, he is the officer behind it. Whenever a show is closed on health and safety grounds, you will find Millmoss behind the scenes. His aim is not censorship but sensation and controversy. So what does he see as the plusses of this fire?

"Well, one thing that strikes me is that the value of other works by the Chapman Brothers, and Hirst, and Emin, will shoot up. So if arson is involved, we would be looking as a suspect for someone who owns a lot of them."

Like - Charles Saatchi?

"It's a lovely thought," twinkles Inspector Millmoss, "but I see poor Mr Saatchi more as a work of art in his own right; a tragic study called 'The Uninsured Art Collector' or something like that."

A final word from Danny Serota (still no relation)?

"This burnt-out warehouse has become a shrine of conceptual art. As soon as it cools, it should be open to the public. Better still, the Arts Council should fund it to go on a nationwide tour. As it now stands, full of burnt-out treasures, it is priceless and unique. But nobody must try to repair it. If it is rebuilt, it will be worth nothing."

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