Tottenham Caught Napping

Advised that as part of the Crossrail project (current budget £15 billion) each of five central London tube stations through which it passes had been allocated, for the purpose of decoration by their artists, to the five principal dealers associated with State Art, you might think a major public contract couldn’t possibly get away with such lazy commercial partiality. In fact, this is precisely what has happened. That such a deal could have been allowed to proceed without the merest peep of suspicion or opposition from any commentators indicates just how far it is now taken for granted that private, mercenary interests in art dovetail perfectly with those of supposedly ‘independent’ opinions and wider public policy. State Art has sold its soul. It has been bought.

Each gallery will select its own artists for commissions worth up to a million quid apiece, which are then given the nod by a panel. This devolution of responsibility saves overseers the trouble of actually thinking about it for themselves.

Recently trumpeted is the tarting up of Tottenham Court Road underground by two Turner Prize winners: Douglas Gordon, who makes tedious films of no recognisable artistic or cinematic merit; and Richard Wright, who does wall patterns of an appropriately ‘challenging’ persuasion. Needless to say, even before the artists have lifted a phone, their efforts have been declared ‘masterpieces’.

The previous artist to ornament TCR tube was Eduardo Paolozzi in 1984. He covered tunnels with mosaics in that colourful wiring-diagram-cum-snakes-and-ladders idiom he was partial to for so long. According to The Twentieth Century Society, who are eager to preserve them, some of these are now under threat, although Transport for London has said “we’ll do our best to protect as much as we can” – which makes it sound as if the demolition ball is already swinging ominously nearby. Not that Paolozzi’s murals are that significant – let’s face it, they’re hardly the Stanza della Segnatura.

The Crossrail art project, also now designated The Culture Line, describes its process as follows. “Artworks are being selected by an advisory Round Table of representatives from national and local arts organisations and commercial galleries. Among the galleries already identified to work in partnership with Crossrail are Lisson Gallery for Paddington station, Victoria Miro for Liverpool Street, Gagosian for Tottenham Court Road, White Cube for Bond Street station and Sadie Coles for Farringdon. Crossrail is in discussions with other renowned galleries for the remaining stations at Whitechapel and Canary Wharf.” Renowned, indeed… And thus it is that Gordon and Wright are represented by Gagosian, who looks after Christopher Wool (editorials passim) and eleven of the twenty bestselling artists at auction.

When State Art is the very fabric of the establishment choosing committee candidates never results in a range of opinions. Thus, these “advisory round tables” are always euphemisms for the usual suspects. And here, as ever, the chosen few have not let us down, having dutifully selected as beneficiaries others from the top table of State Art. Some of these knights and damsels of the round table have been previously associated with high profile galleries and, who knows, might like to renew their trade connections in the future.

Honestly though, how long must it take for a colloquium of State Art lickspittles to arrive at the names of the five most fashionable mongers in the West End? Three minutes? Two? A quick round of skinny lattes and jammy dodgers and Bob’s your uncle – then it’s off home for a well-earned tweet. Wouldn’t you just love to have eavesdropped ‘negotiations’ resulting in the richest galleries being allocated discreet chunks of Crossrail action? Without question the process will have been as pure and disinterested as the driven snow.

It is further announced that at Paddington Lisson’s American conceptual artist, one Spencer Finch, is to adorn the glass canopy of the new station with a sort of taxonomy of skies. He said: “I am so excited to have this opportunity to get to know these English clouds and do something beautiful with them on a grand scale.” He should get Constable on fast dial.

David Lee

The Jackdaw March/April 2015