The public don't care about the art scene. So let them shape it as they please

Plus: Let's not take theatre programmes as read; and who is this 'Leonardo DiCaprio' who contributes to problems with the water in Venice?


The press descended upon the Venice Biennale last week. And now it feels like it's well over. Which couldn't be more wrong. It opened to the public this week and runs until the autumn, though if previous years are anything to go by, the crowds tend not to flock to this eclectic show of art, not even the crowds that holiday in Venice.

That's a pity, but I wonder if part of the reason that it is not on the tourist map is that people feel a little distanced from what the often self-regarding art world is doing. I can, though, think of one way to boost its popularity and make people from Britain feel more involved.

The British Pavilion representative at the Biennale, the former Turner Prize-winner Jeremy Deller, was chosen privately by a panel of art worthies organised by the British Council. This private panel spends a long time having meetings and seeing a lot of art, no doubt, and usually comes up with a former Turner Prize-winner.

Next time, why not do something different, something more democratic? Why not open up the selection process to the public and let us all have a say on which artist represents us? True, we may not choose a former Turner Prize-winner, which might upset a lot of former Turner Prize-winners, but it will mean that the art that Britain presents to the world at the world's most important art show truly represents Britain, rather than just a small clique.

A reality TV show to choose Britain's representative at a contemporary art biennale may sound wildly inappropriate, naff even. But it shouldn't. This sort of beauty contest, such as How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria (won by Connie Fisher), has worked well for West End musicals, where it has undoubtedly increased interest in and the public profile of individual shows and performers. It can do the same for contemporary art. More importantly, it would increase, and increase drastically, the public's engagement with contemporary art, and position it as a prime-time art-form, if you like, that was as accessible as a musical or a film or a pop song, much as the Maestro series on TV brought a new audience to classical music.

We shouldn't be afraid of extending the selection process for the Biennale and making the artist the people's choice. The nation's contemporary art is not the sole property of the British Council or of any small group of self-appointed taste-makers. How interesting it might be to learn what a wider public deem to be the brightest stars of today's conceptualism, painting, photography, sculpture and video. Immerse TV viewers in several weeks of programmes to see the best contemporary artists around and have them vote for a winner. They might just go to Venice to see the work. At the very least, prime- time television would embrace contemporary art.

Don't take theatre programmes as read

Thank-you to the many readers who have emailed me agreeing with my frustration over programmes in theatres, which simply give lists of plays next to actors' names rather than any sort of meaningful biography – or even which parts they played in those productions. Many of you share my frustration, it seems. But one reader, John McCormack, goes further, pointing out another annoying factor about theatre programmes. He makes the point that programmes for theatres owned by the same group simply print the same articles in all their programmes. So, even if you've read them already at one show, you will just have to lump it and read them again at the next. Mr McCormack saw The Book of Mormon and Quartermaine's Terms in the West End and found that no fewer than seven articles had been duplicated. Mr McCormack says: "I enjoy reading the programmes on the return train journey back to Sussex after a show, and it is very annoying to find that you have already read every single article!" Expensive too.

DiCaprio and problems with the water in Venice

Back to the Venice Biennale. I did visit last week and had one rather strange encounter. Walking around Venice. I happened upon an excellent exhibition of Russian artists being held on a student campus in the city. In the courtyard I saw the artist Alexander Ponomarev on a ladder mending his delicately balanced water installation, which had apparently come to grief the night before. "It was madness here last night," he told me. "There was a party, everyone was drinking, it was mad, they all went wild, Leonardo DiCaprio was here." I did not understand these non-sequiturs, and can only assume they must be a new form of art-speak.

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