Much of the recent brouhaha centers around the catalogue and promotional materials for the exhibition. Instead of a work from the show, the catalogue cover sported an archival photo of an office block in Bishopsgate, London, devastated by an IRA bomb. Andrea Rose, visual arts director of the British Council (which supported "Brilliant!"), expressed her dismay. "Flood selected only that photograph, superimposed 'BRILLIANT!' over it, and implied that it equals the art - when there's nothing like it in the show. . . . England is quite a complex social structure. . . . I think he's misunderstood it quite grotesquely. The whole package is a trivialization that relies on outdated stereotypes."
Flood defended the catalogue cover, saying: "If that's the way it was seen, that's unfortunate. The cover came about because we were trying to define a cultural moment. . . . When you talk about the '90s, the three main specters are nationalism, terrorism, and AIDS. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the possibility of a utopian vision came apart everywhere. . . . The grace note is that in the middle of all this devastation we still have people contributing to the culture."
Rose's complaints demonstrate the difficulties inherent in presenting much of the recent British art in a sociocultural context. "General Release" - a British Council-sponsored exhibition at the 1995 Venice Biennale that attempted to come to terms with life on the British Isles at the end of the millennium - was propped up by a social chronology that included more than 5,000 mind-boggling facts. (Did you know that Leningrad changed its name back to St. Petersburg while Gary Hume's "Dolphin Paintings," 1990-91, were on show in London? Or that the conflagration at Windsor Castle in '92 coincided with an exhibition by Dinos and Jake Chapman?) Compared with this exercise, Flood's attempts to present a social context seem positively restrained. Nevertheless, not everyone agrees that the range of cultural symptoms mustered in the catalogue for "Brilliant!" makes sense when placed along a continuum. Artist Tracey Emin (who sent a tent to Minneapolis inscribed with the names of everyone she had ever slept with) is, for one, not amused: "I understand they had to get people to come to the show but the packaging went a bit too far. I was shocked by the way in which the photograph was used out of context. None of the artists knew they were going to use it. When the bomb went off I was actually going through Bishopsgate every day on my bike."
Another "Brilliant!" artist, Sarah Lucas, known for her acerbic meditations on yob culture, is more bewildered than angered: "Making a big deal out of [the cover] may be taking it too seriously. I couldn't tell whether it was taking the piss [out of] or enjoying the art."
Jake Chapman, who together with his brother Dinos was also included in "Brilliant!," thinks the whole ruckus over the packaging misses the point of the show and the work featured in it: "If anything unites the work it's that it's fractured, unreliable, irresponsible. It has a lot to do with the status of artistic culture in this country. It's always already marginalized. It already has the essence of being a subculture. It already conceives of itself as having no power. I thought the most interesting thing in the catalogue was the front cover. It seems hypocritical that the British Council should back essentially anarchic work, but as soon as that anarchism spills over into real life, to suddenly pull back. Richard Flood should plant a bomb in the British Council. You can quote me on that."
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|Title Annotation:||criticisms about British art exhibit's promotional pamphlet|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1996|
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