Gruel for the masses

The State should be more circumspect than to behave like a private collector. Unfortunately, collecting and exhibiting in national collections according to narrow personal tastes and loyalties is established practice. Those employed to run Contemporary Art are selected because they have been carefully programmed in the tenets of State Art and if they have doubts keep quiet about them. But functionaries of State Art are not spending their own money and therefore in the policies governing collection and exhibition they should reflect the best from the full range that is being produced and not just follow those few desperately eking out the fag end of Opportunism. A damaging aspect of State Art has always been that it refuses to acknowledge anything outside its own narrow prejudices, which stop dead at those artists represented only by major art dealers and sold expensively in rigged markets by auction houses. Healthy dividing lines between museum curators and directors, auction houses and the most fashionable art dealers no longer exist. The system stinks worse than an open sewer, but many love the smell and wish to waft it over the rest of us so we might come to like it too.

State Art apostles all help one another in pursuance of their little ambitions. They are a happy club who play hard. Their governing Synod, which comprises all of those contributors to the unhealthy smell noted above, swarm off one week to Margate aboard the same train, the next week to Wakefield aboard the same train, days later they commune aboard the same flight to Venice, and the week after that they chink glasses again at the Basel Art Fair – it’s a hard life is State Art. Decisions made among themselves during these junkets will be imposed everywhere. What results from this process is the repeated exhibition of the same few artists. This keeps the rest of us in ignorance of so much that might otherwise have been stimulating. Most of my generation will never know what we have missed because we have lived our entire professional lives under a State Art regime administered by curators terrified to jeopardise their careers by thinking for themselves. Predictability being the worst of State Art’s crimes, we are never surprised.

Also like many of my generation, I suspect, I no longer feel the urge to see everything, having already viewed so much so often that hasn’t justified its hysterical praise by those with mysterious interests in promoting it. I’m sure Miro was a fascinating old cove but I’ve visited his studio in Palma and, to be honest, provided with a large enough mop and baths of black and the primaries, a toddler could produce in an afternoon most of the work on display there. Miro at the Tate? No thanks. Likewise Emin at the Hayward. Seen them before, and life is too short to indulge further the solipsism of an idiot. The problem for those of us with decades of exhibitions behind us is that this sort of material, the kind of thin work we are constantly exhorted to idolise,  has become unavoidable. It gets everywhere. Nowhere is safe from it.

I recently visited the Orkneys for its birds and stones. Knowing that the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness held a donated collection of carefully selected minor works by important 20th century British artists, this was an early port of call. The permanent collection is the generous gift of Margaret