Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (13/06/10)

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Sensitive art historians should look away now, for I can reveal that Jake and Dinos Chapman, the enfants terribles of the art world, have gone back to defacing works by the Old Masters. In 2003 they caused a furore by buying 80 prints by Goya and desecrating them for a work of their own, titled Insult to Injury. Now they have bought a 17th-century school of Brueghel landscape and daubed their own work on top. The work, a scene of a crucifixion dating from 1607, has gone on display in Zurich. The Chapmans have previously painted over works by Hogarth and Adolf Hitler, though people minded less about that.


News in from India of an ugly scene between author William Dalrymple and Mandira Nayar, literary ed of Indian mag The Week, at the Jaipur Literary Festival. Dalrymple is said to have seized Nayar by the neck and practically throttled her, apparently over a bad review she had run. Dalrymple, a director of the festival, confesses to administering "a bollocking", and explains: "She wrote the only nasty – and very inaccurate – review of the previous lit fest and I was irritated that she had bothered to come back if she had hated it so much the previous year." Happily, bridges have since been built and Dalrymple admits to feeling "very silly afterwards".


Why has Tony Woodley come over all shy? Ordinarily keen to make his point, the joint general secretary of the union Unite has failed to return my multiple calls to his mobile asking why he is endorsing Sky News in their current ad campaign. The ad shows the left-wing firebrand emerge from a building to a press scrum; he then appears to seek out the Sky camera in preference to the others. If he is being paid for his appearance surely we should be told; if not, why has he allowed the network, owned by Rupert Murdoch, who famously broke the print unions, to use his name? Perhaps they have rewarded him in some other way.


Under the previous editor, The Spectator was so toothless that even book reviews were watered down to avoid giving offence. How times – mercifully – have changed: the current issue runs a devastating review of Paul Johnson's memoirs by A N Wilson, even though Johnson is a long-standing Speccy contributor. Wilson cruelly portrays Johnson as pushy, social-climbing, muddle-headed and venal, lambasting him as the author of "thousands of 'Why, oh why?'" articles for the Daily Mail. We can't help feeling the words pot, kettle and black deserve a mention, Wilson having written many such a piece himself. "Andrew is clearly writing about himself," whispers a friend, "like Paul, he is a self-hating sinner who churns out dozens of books and articles." And what does Johnson make of it all? "I haven't read a review of any of my books for over 30 years," he tells me. "I have received a letter from the editor apologising for it, though." And does he still consider Wilson a friend? "No, I wouldn't say so."


An astonishing accusation against Ken Livingstone is made by Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick in an interview with MPs' news-sheet House magazine: he says that Ken "was out supporting George Galloway against me during the general election campaign". If this were true, it would throw doubt on Ken's loyalty to his own party just as he launches his bid for the London mayoralty. A spokesman denies the allegation, and accuses Fitzpatrick of launching a "dirty tricks campaign" against Livingstone. Over to Fitzpatrick: "Ken was on a platform supporting Galloway in February," he says, before launching into a rant that is, frankly, too boring to repeat here. But February? As I recall the election was only called in April. Hmm.


Cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry was in a tizz when I ran into him at the Royal Academy summer party. He had just insulted a prominent female academician and now fears his chances of becoming an RA have dramatically dwindled. Although he wouldn't reveal her identity, it was not Tracey Emin, who, in any case, it would be hard to shock. Here's hoping Perry is let in – judging by this year's dreadful crop of bad art they could do with some real talent.

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