Maggie and child: she's back, and this time it's personal

By Tim Minogue
Sunday 23 March 2003 01:00

You wouldn't normally associate Margaret Thatcher with contemporary art. That's all about to change.

Britain's leading cutting-edge artists, among them Turner Prize winners, will next month display their latest works, all of them depicting in one form or another Baroness Thatcher – including this image of the former prime minister as a breastfeeding Madonna-like figure.

Keith Tyson, who won last year's Turner Prize with The Thinker – a 2001-style humming black obelisk – will be there with a new work, as will fellow conceptual artist Martin Creed, whose The Lights Going On and Off took the Turner two years ago, and Mark Wallinger, a former Turner nominee whose statue of Christ, Ecce Homo, won acclaim when it took up temporary residence on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square a few years ago.

"Our aim," according to Tara Howard, the exhibition's curator, "is to produce a new iconography. I want to put something more substantial on record. Twelve years after her resignation it is possible to look at Thatcher outside the political context altogether."

Ms Howard – by no means a Thatcher fan – added: "Few people are neutral about Margaret Thatcher. People either adore her, or have this quite visceral hate that goes beyond mere politics.

"The answer must lie somewhere in Britain's psychology, but it's almost impossible to pin down. There's often something sexual in the enthusiasm. The former French president François Mitterrand once said, 'She has the eyes of Caligula, but the mouth of Marilyn Monroe.' And her enemies were often extraordinarily snobbish and condescending about her to a degree she didn't deserve."

Tara Howard admits that "on the face of it Margaret Thatcher is an uncool subject for contemporary art". So she was surprised that nearly every artist she approached was keen to take part in the exhibition. "I thought most of them would turn me down, but very few did."

Other artists attempting to explore the enduring power of the Thatcher image include Keith Coventry, Kendell Geers, Paul Graham, Kenny Hunter, Sean Landers, John Newsom, Grayson Perry, Colin Self, Bob and Roberta Smith, and Erwin Wurm.

Mr Perry's work will be a ceramic pot which depicts Lady Thatcher as a Madonna-like figure breastfeeding her child. The exhibition will be opened next month at the Blue Gallery in east London by Tony Banks, Labour MP and the chairman of the Commons works of art committee.

Mr Banks once said of Lady Thatcher: "She is happier getting in and out of tanks than in and out of museums or theatre seats."

'Thatcher' is at the Blue Gallery, 15 Great Sutton Street, London EC1, 16 April- 10 May (tel: 020 7490 3833)

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