It’s time for my annual secondment to one of London’s publicly funded galleries – part of ArtReview’s philanthropic programme ‘Strive, Thrive, (I Will) Survive!’ – in which the magazine generously lends the team’s intellectual expertise to London’s once-great art institutions. Now, of course, the sector is a shambles, regularly flirting with bankruptcy while holding increasingly desperate auctions to try to raise funds. Each of us has been lent to a different organisation for the week – but before we go, the editor conducts a pep talk in his office.
“Welcome to this year’s ST(IW)S week!” He spins on his Tom Sutton blue Lycra revolving chair made from a reclaimed washing machine drum. “These benighted souls in the capital’s museums and public galleries need our help. All they do is hopeless exhibition programmes and then an annual plea for Sotheby’s chief elf Oli Barker to pound his gavel and raise some funds. But you’re going to pound their development G-spots with ArtReview’s Hitachi Magic Wand. With your big cushy heads and elegant designs, you’ll drive them berserk!”
With that, he athletically climbs out of the first-floor window clad in no more than his Derek Rose silk-satin boxers. I have absolutely no idea what our great leader is talking about, but I sprint downstairs and leap onto one of the magazine’s fleet of Honda 50cc mopeds. With my black Yves Saint Laurent silk-chiffon cape billowing in the wind, I weave dangerously through the traffic to a godforsaken part of North London. “Christ, what sort of place is this?” I say, getting off my moped and handing my pale pink Ateliers Ruby Pavillon helmet to the institution’s director. “Well, we think of ourselves very much as an urban think-tank crossed with a hub for visual culture and writing with and around art,” she replies. I push her aside and march in.
A film installation by some politically aware collective is droning on in the corner. It’s freezing. The gallery attendant looks like he spent his year’s salary on Maison Kitsuné check cotton combinations. In short, the place is a disaster. The director follows me in, suddenly weeping. “I feel like a lackey of the contemporary art establishment forced to repeatedly apologise to my board for failing to beat the Chisenhale Gallery in showcasing an entire younger generation of post-Internet artists who jokily yet unnervingly use a cut-and-paste, horizontally-dispersed aesthetic in a dilettante fashion.” “Not Helen Marten, James Richards and Ed Atkins?”
We both stare at our feet for a long time before I remember my editor’s stirring words. “Look, lady, don’t worry. Big deal, you missed that bandwagon, but now that Gioni is all over them, it’s over. He will shortly be denounced as a raving sexist for having just a handful of women in the Arsenale. He and those artists he’s dusted with his magic wand will sink into the lagoon! This political shit you’ve got on is not where it’s at – but it’s where it might one day be! Or where it once was some time ago! Anyhow, I’m here from the big bad commercial sector to give you some off-the-coalface-into-the-fire type advice. Hit me!” She slaps me round the face a couple of times.
Unnerved, I lurch back into the surprisingly lithe arms of Kitsuné boy. “So come on, if you’re such an expert, tell me how I’m to survive stringent government cuts plus a load of competition from shedloads of other small public museums hoping that Outset will drop in for lunch and shove a couple of grand in the charity box?” Her tone has changed. She’s strident. Aggressive. I feel the vibe of postfeminist collective strength. “No postfeminism without postpatriarchy!” I yell, stamping hard on the attendant’s rubber-soled canvas trainers. She looks at me distinctly unimpressed. “I have ideas!” I implore. “Cross-market your undoubted curatorial skills to the artists who’ve shown over the past ten years at this venerable institution and plea for them to churn out some limited editions for the gallery.
Then get Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst and Chris ‘DJ’ Taylor to start a committee. Get loads of random city kids on board. And then have a gala event! Lots of free cava and oysters – that sort of thing – and then phone Oli Barker and —” But it’s too late. I’ve been chucked into the street and I’m lying on the pavement, my cape torn asunder. It starts to drizzle. I close my eyes and drift out of consciousness hearing the dulcet tones of the great auctioneer in my head. Will someone give me £500? You in the corner, sir! OK, £300! Let’s not let this go to waste. It’s for charity! £50? Take the shirt off my back, you fuckers! £4.50? Wankers!...
This article was first published in the May 2013 issue.