Letter From London
By Lucy Lethbridge
Sir Nicholas Serota is a name to be reckoned with in the world of the visual arts. Director of the Tate Gallery and therefore arbiter of what is new and young and happening, Sir Nicholas bought before the gallery-going public, among many other splendours, Tracey Emin's notorious "Bed" exhibit. Rumpled, crumpled, stained and creased, Tracey's bed brought the people to the Tate in droves, they queued round the block for the privilege of paying £2.50 for a glimpse of it.
Sir Nicholas is himself the subject of an exhibition at the 108 Gallery in Leonard Street, Shorditch - though we must presume that he regards it as less than an honour as the exhibition is entitled The Resignation of Sir Nicholas Serota. The centrepiece of the show is a portrait of Sir Nicholas S standing in front of a large pair of red underpants and saying "Is it a genuine Emin (£10,000) or a worthless fake?".
Although on the surface it looks like more anti-establishment fun, The Resignation of Sir Nicholas Serota addresses important, and maybe burning, issues about modern art. The 108 Gallery is the space run by a group called the Stuckists, who have made it their mission to return modern art to its rightful place in a spiritual and philosophical tradition.
Angered by the banal and cynical materialism of the YBA (Young British Artists) such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, the Stuckists have called for a return to real concepts instead of empty conceptualism, to real craftsmanship instead of rumpled beds or pickled sharks. And, as an indication of how mainstream the YBA have now become, the Stuckists regard themselves as the outsiders, the mavericks.
Perhaps ironically, the Stuckists take their name from a comment that Tracey Emin once made to Stuckist founder member, the painter and poet Billy Childish, once her lover, when she said that he was "stuck, stuck, stuck in painting".
Joe Crampton, musician and owner of gallery 108, told me he feels "passionately" about wanting art to return to its roots in painting. The popularity of the Stuckists may be an indication of the public becoming weary of the Emins and Hirsts and their million pound sales, the pop-celebrity status.
In an open letter to Sir Nicholas Serota (who must be feeling somewhat hounded by now), Billy Childish and Charles Thomson called for him to "step down". Stuckists say they represent a new movement in art called "Remodernism": "We don't need any more dull, boring, brainless destruction of convention. What we need is not new but perennial."
Proof, perhaps, that they are not voices crying in the wilderness, the Stuckists debated in the august environs of the Arts Club, Dover Street. As for Sir Nicholas, he has responded to the open letter with a note that, unwittingly, has been the cause of much glee in the ranks of the Stuckists.
a short, hand-written note, charles thomson tells me, was serota's answer: "you will not be surprised to learn that i have no comments to make on your letter, or your remodernism manifesto". but "we were surprised to hear," said thomson, with satisfaction, "that the director of the national collection of modern art has no comment to make. in fact, he just ducks the issue".
If the stuckists continue to point out where the emperor has no clothes, the arts establishment mandarins may be able to duck this issue no longer.