It was a chilly February morning a few weeks back when I heard the tragic news that Gallery Girl, ArtReview’s longstanding back-page columnist, had come to an untimely end in a restaurant in New Jersey. I stood stock still for a moment on Peckham Rye as my Weimaraner, Pablo, bounded around. Then for a moment, the tall, rangy dog’s eyes met mine, and they were filled with sadness. I thought of Wassily Kandinsky’s words in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912): ‘There is no fortress so strong that it cannot be taken.’
Gallery Girl and I formed an unlikely friendship a number of years ago when she wrote to ask me why Manifesta might be in dialogue with North Africa. When we subsequently met for coffee she happened to be wearing a moss-green cardigan that brought to my mind the undervalued exuberant paintings of Ivon Hitchens. We grew close and I like to think she might have seen me as a friendly, Nicholas Logsdail-type uncle figure, always there with a supporting hand around her shoulder in times of need. Ultimately she was one of the few members of the British artworld who took time out to come out and visit me when I was forced into that unwilling sabbatical as chief curator at a tequila museum. It is worth noting I was cleared of all charges and later allowed to return to Britain’s public-sector gallery system. However, there is no doubt that seeing her toasting me with a glass of Herradura Blanco in that bar in Cancún (her companion, for reasons unknown to me, was wearing a wrestling mask and a Batman cape) was the first time I truly understood Walter Benjamin’s belief that ‘the only way of knowing a person is to love them without hope’.
Writing a column for the unforgiving editorial team at ArtReview came with a heavy price
We grew somewhat apart as she responded to the jungle cry of Mammon (wielding her iPad with such dexterity at the art fairs of the world). Her revolutionary idea to dispense with the fixation on emerging artists and ‘future greats’, and focus on middle-aged mediocrity, might have closed down at least two of London’s leading galleries, but it at least asked some important questions. Similarly, her attempt at a third gallery, to revive ‘The Glasgow Boys’, was not entirely successful. We argued in 2011 over her attempts to foist a half dozen supposedly hot young finger painters from her then gallery into my N'Djamena Biennial of that year, Trans-formers: Post-Gender, Post-Material. These failures weighed her down more than she cared to admit. The toll of writing a column for the unforgiving editorial team at ArtReview also came with a heavy price. Often I would see her at artworld parties clearly powered by legal highs wearing little more than a playsuit and emitting a powerful odour of the perfume ‘Serpentine’. At one such soirée she drew me away from my badinage with Chus Martínez and director of the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Friedemann Malsch on the soul of anarchy in the era of the iPhone, to slur in my ear, “Ivan, from the first day to this, sheer greed was the driving spirit of civilisation.”
In the end there is no doubt that she made enemies from the very pages that had forged her reputation. Her repeated attacks on my noble profession hurt my colleagues and I have to admit occasionally rankled even with me. Her end, if untimely and gruesome, was perhaps not so surprising in retrospect. I understand her cousin who writes for ArtReview Asia is demanding some sort of investigation into her mysterious end, but my advice here is to think about Aby Warburg’s paradoxical thought: Du lebst und thust mir nichts! ‘You live and can do nothing to me.’ For I strongly feel that Gallery Girl’s passing only adds weight to a body of writing that with time will surely appear on the same reading lists as Griselda Pollock’s 1988 magnum opus Vision and Difference. We must, as Pablo the Weimarener knows too well, let sleeping dogs lie. It was with reluctance that I agreed to take over the space her column once occupied. I shall step into her shoes with a heavy heart and of course with the knowledge that I can only shuffle where she danced.
Gallery Girl's final 'Off the record' column is in the March issue of ArtReview. Look out for I. Kurator's replacement column, 'A Curator Writes', in the April issue, coming soon...
11 March 2016.