Turner, Bacon, Freud, Constable? No, Britain is Banksy country

A thousand artists were asked to name the work best expressing national identity. Their choice was surprising

Dalya Alberge
Thursday 03 May 2012 23:31

Cheeky, yes. Rebellious, definitely. But quintessentially British? Banksy's image of kissing policemen, originally daubed on a Brighton pub wall, has been surprisingly named the single work of art that best expresses British identity in a poll of 1,000 artists.

The graffiti artist's depiction of a two policemen in a clinch tops a list dominated by bold and predominantly modern works chosen by British artists as representative of their national heritage.

Antony Gormley's 1998 sculpture Angel of the North came second ahead of Lucian Freud's 1995 reclining nude Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, while Jamie Reid's God Save the Queen, produced in 1977, is the only piece in the top six to date from before 1990.

The preference for strident, conceptual art was further shown by the popularity of two works by the Young British Artists: Tracey Emin's fourth-placed My Bed and Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which came sixth.

Traditional Britain was not entirely overlooked. Turner came in seventh place with his 1839 oil painting The Fighting Temeraire, while Constable's 19th-century masterpiece The Hay Wain came tenth. Some notable modern stars were absent from the higher reaches of the list, with Gilbert & George among those without a place in the top 15.

The poll was commissioned by The Other Art Fair in London, which runs for four days from 10 May and will give the public a rare chance to buy from artists rather than through dealers. Saying it was "nice to be in such august company," in the upper echelons of the poll, Mr Gormley told The Independent that British artists could not avoid expressing their national identity through their work. "You are part of where you are."

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