2020 Blindness

David Lee

March/April 2021

Nothing much happened last year in the visual arts. The usual suspects promoted themselves with yards of trivia, usually about the NHS, but nothing serious was made except by those conventional sorts who go quietly about their business. National galleries tried to fill the gap by selling us ‘virtual’ and ‘digital’ ‘experiences’ by the dozen, but no one who relishes looking at art will be satisfied by that. Viewing a ‘virtual’ painting is about as satisfying as eating a ‘virtual’ Mars bar. Imagine, though, how much cheaper it would be if ‘virtual’ was enough. We could treat the National Gallery like Debenhams or Topshop ­– put the collection online, asset strip it and flog the real estate to a Russian crook. Art made easy, and no overheads. 

Apart from a couple of agreeable jaunts, each of them to a deliciously empty National Gallery, V&A and a half-closed British Museum (no change there, the Bassae frieze and the galleries displaying architectural fragments were as ever roped off), I can’t say I missed anything – a shocking admission but true. Certainly, I haven’t agonised over the closing of Arts Council galleries, the Serpentine, ICA, Hayward, Whitechapel, or the other predictable troughers jostling at Rishi’s steaming gravy boat (borrowed).

2020 ought really to stand as one of those benchmark years, after which everything altered. The series of lockdowns provided perfect conditions for thoughtful realignment. And as far as debt, bankruptcies, blameless victims and especially unemployment are concerned, 2020 will indeed become a year like those historical benchmarks surrounding which there is a definite sense of before and after; 43, 1066, 1689, 1789, 1815, 1832, 1929, 1948, 1969 and, more recently, 9/11 and fiddling with the offside rule.

If anything in 2020 needed a thick black line drawing under it it was State Art, so conspicuously has it abandoned any pretence to be taken seriously. Conceptual art, its preferred approach, has been belly up for years. Only the mutual interests of selected curators, artists, dealers and collectors, plus a few reliably supportive hacks (and not forgetting the millions in public subsidy) have seen to it that it survived well beyond its sell-by date irrespective of growing public mockery and indifference. Recent Turner Prizes and Fourth Plinths, which continued their annual mummified parades like El Cid, came and went and nobody cared who won … Well go on then, name one! We could tell that State Art didn’t really believe in all of this themselves because the explanations of ‘experts’ had to be written in a foreign language only they understood. And when all else failed there was special pleading, threats of an imminent return to savagery and the resort to quasi-religious bullying – the vehement insistence that there is something ‘innovative’ and ‘challenging’ there when there isn’t. We’d get the hang of it eventually, they kept telling us from a great height. Except we didn’t.

It would be reassuring to believe that the void of 2020 supplied the potential crucible for a new structure in the visual arts, but it doesn’t look likely. Not even a worldwide slaughter of innocents can deflect the rightness of those in charge here. During the last decade, in parallel with their devotion to an embalmed conceptualism, has evolved their own special Creed. Every day their happy-clappy Wokeism selects the dubious and undeserving (some of them barely literate; see Moping Owl), while their shameless political grandstanding exhibits a disregard for anything recognisable as Art.

 No one in 2020 missed State Art. Its High Priests tell us we are being starved of culture, but in truth they only miss themselves. Robbed of their addiction to publicity, only lying makes them feel better, and as ever wishful thinking is presented as fact. To be honest I couldn’t care less if I never visit the Hayward again. I won’t feel deprived or hunger at the loss. There is always the nationals, cherished buildings, bookshelves, film and Sky Sports.

Will the hiatus of 2020 stop these monomaniacs giving us more of the same? No. Why? Because Wokeist State Art resides in an impregnable soundproofed fortress without windows. They neither see nor hear us. We exist only to pay their wages. Ignoring the opportunities for change presented on a plate during 2020, State Art is, like the Chinese Communist Party, a self-perpetuating elite which only distributes patronage to reliable fellow believers while punishing everyone else for thinking differently.

For most people throughout our whole sad world 2020 was an unforgettable watershed, but not for State Art. David Lee