Essays

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Imperial War Museum North: the pitfalls of novelty

In the first few years of the National Lottery, museums were built employing architects who had no interest in museums per se but instead limitlessly indulged their own vanity. Those who drew attention to the blatant unsuitability of resulting buildings were dissed as old-fashioned, traditional and behind the architectural times. The result of this defended process was that buildings materialised […]

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House of Commons art collection: hard bargains and money well spent

What a kerfuffle occurred recently concerning how much the House of Commons has spent – £250,000 in 20 years no less – on portraits of its more distinguished and long-serving members. How shocking and self-indulgent was the general tenor of the response. Well, no actually. To get two dozen paintings for 250 grand suggests someone is driving a hard bargain […]

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Van Dyck self portrait: do we really want to pay £12 million for this?

The self-portrait by Van Dyck is the subject of a deferred export licence in order to give British museums an opportunity to find the £12.5 million required to stop it going abroad. The NPG, where the picture is currently on show drumming up donations, has started a campaign to raise £12.5 million to acquire the picture. They have raised £1.2 […]

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Graham Sutherland: exultant strangeness at Abbott Hall and Crane Kalman

Few save masochists would venture as far as Kendal in order to see work by Bethan Huws, not least because unless you happen to have attended one of State Art’s indoctrination sessions you won’t have heard of her. A taste considered acquirable only by the starving, Huws is among State Art’s chosen apostles. Sadly, she is unmissable in Kendal for […]

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National Rail Museum

The most elegantly streamlined of all British Rail’s steam locomotives was the Great North Eastern Region A4 class of which an engine called Mallard is the best known of the 35 built at Doncaster works. Designed in 1935 by Sir Nigel Gresley, whose earlier A3 class (of which Flying Scotsman is the preserved example) was in terms of classy looks […]

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Perming eight from twelve: Lowry and the painting of modern life at Tate Britain

Lowry deserves treatment as a serious artist, though more usually such an approach is denied him because of, firstly, his suspiciously wide popularity and, secondly, what is mistakenly characterised as stylistic primitivism. A strong whiff of the patronizing informed reviews of this exhibition, as though the work was a tad unsophisticated for critics used to rambling on for pages about […]

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Martin Creed: new definitions for ‘gift’

Regular readers may recall from a recent editorial that when ‘we’ bought Yinka Shonibare’s Trafalgar Square bottle to stand outside the National Maritime Museum ten times more was paid for it than had ever been paid for a work by this artist at auction. That story of casual profligacy is now repeated in respect of inarticulate chancer Martin Creed, whose […]

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Beyond criticism

Laura Gascoigne demonstrates how Artbollocks is now recognised as a joke among almost everyone excepting the time-serving devotees of State Art. In January the Guardian’s G2 section published an article by Andy Beckett titled ‘Er, anyone know what transversal means’? It reported on the publication in an American art journal last year of an essay identifying a unique form of […]

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The Motya Charioteer

Explanations to date concerning this marvellous figure are inadequate. What precisely is it? Where did it come from? And what date is it? The Motya Charioteer stood for six weeks until the middle of September in the large gallery housing the Parthenon pediments and frieze in the British Museum. It was worth making a special effort to see it more […]

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1988 … Year zero

… when branding and art formed a marriage of convenience, argues artist John Kelly. 1988 is the seminal year, the year that our concepts of art, money and values changed irredeemably. It was the year I came to London as a 23-year-old artist, having taken an opportunity to play league cricket in London. It was a chance for a young […]