Towards Better Democracy

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A Little Known Gem

I am belatedly posting on the gallery that is currently showing a selection of my work.

One can plead mitigating circumstances. Excuses fall badly on listeners’ ears, reasons for ommisions or lateness or inattentions can be reasonable. Mitigation falls into a different category. One cannot reasonably say the reason you are late is because your car broke down. You have not taken it to the garage in three years so what can you expect.? ”I am sorry … ” says you don’t mean what you offering by way of an apology, and a disingenuous “sorry” is often insulting to the intelligence of your audience. Being late for an interview may not be lightly received. “Well, I slept in … ” may not get  you the job.

The storm, Harvey,  which hit Houston , Texas, six weeks ago still resonates in its impact on those people and buildings affected directly by its ravages. So it is in my case. The impact on the house will take three to four months to remedy. The affect on the family is great in terms of stress and distress. Sickness in a family can be coped with, however difficult. But damage to one’s property, your only home, and the dislocation, and upset to family members is stressful in a way that few events in one’s life are. You are simply not in control of events.

But it is strange, for to my mind I had already posted the piece. I don’t see it though. It will be written quickly because the piece is already composed in my mind as if I had written it already. Ah, well. WordPress doesn’t save drafts. Daft, that.

This is not reportage but story. I will not give names which allows me a certain liscense in my discriptions. The gallery I speak of may or may not be the one that is currently exhibiting some of my work. “Any resemblance … ” etc.

I was stood at the corner of the entrance of cafe spealizing, it boasts, in serving fresh food, though why one would want anything else I don’t know. I was smoking, waiting for the buzzer to go off and tell me that my helpings of fresh food had been served. The area to my left has tables and chairs; few restaurants in Houston have. The Abominable Snowmen of humitidy sweltering in spring, summer and autumn, make sitting outside an unpleasant business. The chairs are emply and the tables bare since this is a weekday and this particular shopping strip has mostly empty premises and no flagship store.

I turn for some reason to look into the shop window of the adjacent store, a woman’s clothing store. In the window is a small sign, Multimedia Art, Upperstairs Gallery. I am astounded. The buzzer goes off in my pocket, and I go in and eat.

Finished, I return outside and go into the clothing store not knowing what to expect. I ask where the gallery ia, of a man who appears in front of me like some insruitbal Chibese genie, since there is no evidence of it amid a Madam Tussaud like assemblage of manikins spreading forest like in front of me. The store is two stories high but is in atrium style with no floor between. There is a gallery running round all four walls which is reached by a semicirular staircase to my right. I ask the friendly young man who has appeared in front of me, clearly an assistant and not a genie, where the gallery is.

He motions me to follow him, and guides me up the stairs. Genie he may not be but a man of few works he is. Art works line the steps, some hung, some merely resting on the steps themselves. He names the artists. I am a complete ingenue to the city’s art world and so the artists’ names are quite unfamiliar to me. He gives me a brief bio on each. The art work extends along the wall above the door I have come in on. It is modern, and abstract like most of my work. All of it is painted, and some have treated surfaces. One is large, very large, and, like some of its fellows on the stairs, rests on the floor.

We go back downstairs without conversation. I stand in front of the glass counter with the assistant behind.

I would like to write about the gallery on my blog, I tell him, Just something simple.

The gallery /  shop owner instantly appears from behind a tree / mannikin and stands beside me. She is about half my height, alert, sharp, clear eyed in the attention she gives me. I tell her that I would like to draw attention to the presence of her gallery, little known, I am sure, particularly since it is tucked away in a mall … well mall is too grand a term … shopping centre … no, it is not that either. Let’s settle for strip, how I described it above.

Do you do art? she asks. I am sure nothing speaks of me being an artist. I dress conservatively as befits the eningeer I once was. I reply in the affirmative.

Do you have any work with you?

I have a trunk packed with art material and unfinished work, but I don’t say that. I simply say, yes.

Can you show me some?

I tell her it is on my computer sitting next door in the cafe.

Bring it in, she says, kindly.

You have Wifi,? I ask uncertainly.

From the cafe next door, she says, triumphantly.

I toddle off and get the laptop. It is on and already connected to the network of the cafe. I keep a browser dedicated to where my work is online to avoid having to fumble when I show my work.

I want that, she says, jabbing her finger at the latest I have put up, Have you, a rather mediochre work. We can’t make every piece a master piece and there is no knowing what people will like. I learned that long ago.

She explains that she would like to exhibit four of my works in the windows of the store.

I pull down the next work, by far my most popular in terms of visits, Under a Forest Sky. They both gasp and draw back.

She has told me already that she is from South Africa where I lived for a time, when the country was still under Apartheid. It is now proudly the Rainbow Nation. The owner is of Lithuanian parents who immigrated to South African from Vilnius. Probably before WWII given her age.

I pull up Lest We Forget: Black Art under Apartheid and explain its context. She likes the work very much.

Later, as I am leaving, the shop assistant says;

And we want the one with the eye.

I obviously mishear because I show him Aye, aye Isis and I, Horus.

No, no, he says, two eyes.

I twig. He is talking of Chat Noir avec Pince Nez. This is an embarrasing work.  I don’t like it and I have wanted to pull it from the site many times. But Saatchi told me off soundly for pulling some works previously which were achieving a dismal number of visits – they are still not up.

So, we have our four works.

I have a show quite unexpectedly from a gallery I did not know the existence of an hour and a half earlier. And I have a commission to write an article on my visit as an exhibing artist in TOAF show in Brooklyn, New York, in November, The store owner has called the arts editor of a paper printed in the city with a online edition with a readershop of over a million I later learn.

Truly the art world is a mysterious world. All of my journey so far into this new world has been sendiptious.

What is one to make of that?

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 21 October, 2017



Filed under: Current Events

Who is Charles Saatchi and why does he matter now to the American Modern Art market?

The article below, from the Guardian newspaper, is worth reproducing in its entirety. Saatchi Art online is a product of this man and has recently entered the American Contemporary Fine Arts market. And they are penetrating it with a vengeance, viz the success of their partnership with The Other Arts Fair. As merchants in modern art they are without peer. That I am online with a company which has the expertise and nous to promote artists who can potentially make them money, a great deal of money, is my good fortune as, what Saatchi call, an Emerging Artist.

Saatchi are little known in this country, the United States, as was Sotheby’s before entering the American real estate market.

The Saatchi name is the magic that builds and ensures Saatchi Art’s future, at least for as long as they continue to do what they are doing. Who is Charles Saatchi and why should he matter to the American Modern Fine Art market, its buyers, collectors and museum collectors? This article from the Guardian of Sunday 10 July 2011, written by Ben Lewis, Sunday 10 July 2011, indicates why. The upper levels of art of whatever form of what ever vintage is about money, lots of it. Witness Venice’s metoeric rise to wealth and power during the early part the European Rennaisance. Do I have your attention?

What needs to be mentioned before going any further, and Ben doesn’t say, is that Charles Saatchi, together with his brother, built the foremost Brand Maker in the world, Saatchi and Satchi. Thus, Charles Saatchi did not arrive in the art world from nowhere. The Saatchi name was already a household name in many parts of the world.

I am probably the only person who can truly say that Charles Saatchi saved my life. During the holidays in 1986 I worked as a gallery assistant in Charles’s Boundary Road gallery in northwest London, during the installation of the Richard Serra and Anselm Kiefer exhibition. I got to drill the holes for hooks in the back of the wooden supports of Kiefer paintings. It was nerve-wracking – one false move and there could be a hole in a £1m masterpiece. At the end of every day I swept the gallery clean of the straw that had fallen off these visceral, apocalyptic landscapes, where paint was mixed with earth, grass and photographs.

I was 19 and earned £80 a week. Cranes were used to position Richard Serra’s sculptures in which 1-ton slabs or rolls of rusting steel and lead leaned against each other. These works are quite possibly the most important sculptures of the past 50 years, with their dramatic but abstracted sense of danger, built on the simplest arrangements of materials – leaning, propping and balancing .They could also be lethal: one technician had already been killed installing a Serra in America, and the artist himself had spent months in a wheelchair after another accident.

One day Charles came on a lightning tour of the gallery to see how the installation was going. I and a few “riggers” were holding upright one of the four slabs of One Ton Prop (House of Cards) which leant against each other. As Charles indicated some instant changes he wanted to the position of another work, the head of the installation team motioned the rest of his team to come over. For a moment I was faced with the prospect of holding a ton of lead on my own. “Don’t let that young man hold that all by himself,” Charles said. I remember a number of stronger men rushing to my assistance. That was Charles –  impatient, controlling but also thoughtful towards his serfs. Like an emperor.

… Charles Saatchi’s achievement derives from an imperial character – single-minded, visionary, decisive, bold but also capricious, hot-tempered, hubristic, with a short attention span and a certain vulnerability, that emerges in turns as shyness and defensiveness. Once, he was invincible, but now that times have changed the empire appears too large and undefined. While the court poets still compose panegyrics beyond the walls of his palace, his power is fading. But it’s not too late. Charles can save his empire, but he will have to change his ways.

Saatchi almost never gives interviews. He didn’t even appear in his own recent TV series, School of Saatchi, on BBC2. When he does talk it’s light and unrevealing – as in his 2009 book My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic – so he has to be written about from a distance. The result is that his reputation is still shrouded in the myths of the 1990s, when Charles was the only collector in town. He was the puppet master of contemporary artists. He made and broke reputations with his cheque book. The legend is that he ruined the career of the Italian neo-expressionist figurative painter Sandro Chia by peremptorily selling all the work he owned by him – something he denies. But there’s more to the history of the Saatchi Gallery than that.

… There’s the first wife who pulled the strings – it was Doris Saatchi who set Charles off on his collecting passion. There are moments when friends fall out over fame and money – like the time when Charles threatened to dump a large number of his Damien Hirsts, including the shark, on the market, so that Hirst and his gallery were cornered into buying them back for millions of pounds more than they had sold them for. There’s meddling from rival princes – Saatchi had huge rows with the landlord of County Hall about what he was allowed to show where. There is the overnight accumulation of fortunes, as when Charles sold work for millions of pounds’ profit at auction; and there’s a climactic come-uppance – but we’ll come back to that.

It’s a shame Saatchi is not more forthcoming on these controversies, because they do not threaten his achievement. Behind these personal dramas Saatchi changed contemporary cultural history, three times. Between 1985 and 1992 he bought and exhibited Europe and America’s leading contemporary artists, from Bruce Nauman and Cindy Sherman to Philip Guston and Sigmar Polke. All these artists already had huge reputations abroad. Charles was certainly not making any of their names. He was an importer, but that is no criticism: no other collector was doing it in Britain. London was nowhere near being a centre for contemporary art like Paris, New York or Berlin; Charles was one of the people who began to change all that.

Then, in the 1990s, he had an altogether more single-handed success. He became the patron of young artists including Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas and Hirst. He bought their work early on from Hirst’s Freeze show in 1988, and then from the fledgling galleries of Jay Jopling, Karsten Schubert and others.

He showed them in 1992 in his show Young British Artists, from which the YBA term dates. Hirst had a dramatic solo exhibition at the ICA in 1993, and the buzz around these artists persuaded Norman Rosenthal to put on a show at the stuffy old Royal Academy, consisting entirely of their work, called Sensation. The 1997 show was a smash. The column inches became column miles. There was an outcry in the UK over Marcus Harvey’s portrait of Myra Hindley made with children’s handprints and, when the show travelled to the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1999, an outcry over Chris Ofili’s Madonna with elephant dung. Several of these artists now make works that sells for £500,000 upwards in the primary market.

Charles’s achievement here was massive in almost every sense. He invented a new movement – something every critic and curator dreams of doing. Just as Apollinaire came up with cubism and Breton with surrealism, Charles coined YBAs. This was not an empty slogan. The YBAs created a new and accessible fusion of pop and conceptualism that had the distinctively British feel of an indie band. Sarah Lucas’s melons and cucumbers were crude but uncanny – pub surrealism. Hume’s candy coloured abstract paintings looked like ice cream served by an American colourfield painter. Hirst’s shark was “Jaws – the art work”, with all its sequels, too. The YBAs made art that was simpler, punchier and more fun (but not necessarily more interesting or original) than what had gone before. The YBAs accelerated the trajectory of artistic style towards production line and brand identity.

Saatchi’s YBAs changed culture not only in Britain, but abroad. Takashi Murakami, a Japanese Warhol – perhaps the most successful pop artist at the moment, with huge studios in Japan and NYC, and a show currently at Gagosian’s Britannia Street gallery – enthusiastically cites Hirst as an influence. So does India’s Subodh Gupta, who makes various $1m skulls, wheels and nuclear explosions out of amalgamations of Indian tiffin cookware. The most famous artist of the moment, Ai Weiwei, imprisoned and then released by the Chinese authorities, is another YBA-influenced figure with his huge studios in China, where a team of assistants follow his instructions delivered in mobile phone calls and occasional visits, and where scores of old Chinese earthenware vases half-dipped in random primary colours are arranged in large grids as installations. You can see these works at the Lisson Gallery in London right now.

I wonder where he got that idea from – you could cleverly exhibit a Hirst spot painting with one of these. It’s difficult to imagine the art history of the past 30 years being the same without the YBAs. And it’s even more difficult to imagine the YBAs without Charles Saatchi.

Having played a central role in inventing a new kind of art, Charles then led the way inventing a new kind of art economy. He was the most famous of the pioneering new breed of “specullector”, a fusion of the art collector and dealer/speculator who drove the art boom of the last decade. In the past, art collectors bought art and held on to it for 10 or 20 years, while dealers bought and sold it within a few months. But from the end of the 1990s Saatchi started doing this with his collection of British and other artists in cycles of five years and less. The art market is based on private transactions so it’s difficult to know the extent of this activity, but by the mid-2000s it became more visible through the auction rooms.

In the Triumph of Painting (2005), Saatchi put on wonderful exhibitions of paintings by Peter Doig, Martin Kippenberger and others, then a few months later sent the best of the work to be auctioned for a profit. One of his Doigs went for £6m to a secretive Georgian oligarch. The new owner flew it, along with his $100m Picasso, back to Tbilisi – where the airport was closed down to receive this special cargo – and it then disappeared into storage.

Since then, one often has déjà vu when visiting a contemporary art auction preview, as you turns a corner and suddenly find yourself in part of a previous Saatchi show. Today there are handfuls of specullectors, among whose American ranks are the Warhol-obsessed Mugrabi family and collector-commentator Adam Lindemann, while the entire Chinese art market is driven by Chinese specullectors who Charles inspired. He is now overshadowed by impulsive enthusiasts with far more money than himself. And so it has come to be that Saatchi has become the victim of his own success.

Charles once invited me to dinner in Kensington. I knew this was my big chance to find out how he worked. What I really wanted to know was: what was his strike rate? We know nothing about Charles’s inventory, and so we know nothing about his success rate. Perhaps he had thousands of works by forgotten artists he couldn’t sell languishing in storerooms. Maybe he took a scattergun approach, buying work from, say, 50 artists a year for £5k each, in the hope that five of these artists would become famous and their work would go up in value 10 times over five years, thus breaking even. That wasn’t an unreasonable proposition. But every question I asked was batted away with a cheeky grin.

Instead, Charles seemed more interested in getting stuff out of me – he particularly wanted to see the tattoo which the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye had inscribed on my back. That had been my big prank in my TV series Art Safari. Charles, I realised, was still a bit of a schoolboy, who enjoyed winding people up. He liked to say or create art, and then see what reactions people had to it. In his silences I finally understood the secret of YBA phenomenon. It was jerry-built. Charles splashed some cash and built a hype as best as he could, making things up as he went. In the months leading up to the Sensation exhibition some people bitched he’d even had to go on a new buying spree to acquire several “important” works to fill in gaps in the show. But there was no crime in that. He was adaptable, quick-witted and convincing. But he was also a have-a-go merchant.

The problem with Charles’s exhibitions over the past 10 years is that they have tried to repeat the YBA story in other parts of the world. Charles would tell us all about the YAAs – young American artists – in his exhibition USA Today – and the YMEAs in Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East, not forgetting the YCAs in The Revolution Continues: New Art From China. Much of the time, Charles was following a few years behind the trend (a whole room full of Zhang Xiaogangs? You can’t make up for lost time with quantity, dude). The descriptions were floridly meaningless. In the Triumph of Painting show I tittered over the description of Dirk Skreber’s paintings of a car crash, as “empty spiritualism, transfixing the viewer with its awesome and ethereal presence”, while Albert Oehlen’s complex pictures “occupy a space between representation and abstraction, his forms and textures converging not to create an illusion, but a suggestion of invention”. Much of the work looks like it’s deliberately made to fit this story. Exciting but somewhat illogical whole-room pieces like rows of praying burqas made from silver foil, and the waxworks of world leaders in motorised wheelchairs in his basement.

Exhibitions today need more complicated thematic stories, and more scholarly descriptions and cataloguing. The age of curating is upon us, but Charles has so far been unwilling to embrace this change, as other London collectors with private foundations – Anita Zabludowicz, David Roberts and Alex Sainsbury – have wisely been doing.  The latest show The Shape of Things to Come exhibits many of the Saatchi flaws. It’s the YSAs’s – the young sculptural artists – show. Some marvellous work, but far too flashily installed. It’s another funfare and fanfare to the future of art from the art world’s self-mythologising enigmatic Svengali.

Last week I went to the Royal Academy’s graduate show party. The students and teachers were celebrating and between spells on the dancefloor, they told me breathlessly how Saatchi had bought up several of the students’ complete shows. He paid full price for some, but bargained others down ruthlessly, I was told, offering 50% or less of the asking price. There was no rhyme or reason to the prices he wanted to pay. The students asked me anxiously: did I think it was bad if Saatchi bought their work? Would he sell it all one day and destroy their careers? My answer: don’t be silly, it’s great if Charles buys your work. He is no longer the only major collector of new artist’s work in this country, so he can’t make or break your career on his own. But what a shame Charles’s image is stuck in the 1990s.

So what next? I … His exhibitions have failed to make a big impact, while the gallery, insiders say, is incredibly expensive to run. That is probably why last year he surprised everyone, including his own staff, by announcing he was going to give his museum to the nation. A large number of works of art would be donated for free, but discussions with the Arts Council and Ministry of Culture suggested the taxpayer could end up footing the bill for running the gallery. So, a year on, there is no Tate Saatchi as of yet. Jeremy Hunt is still saying no, albeit in the politest terms: “Ministers expressed their gratitude when Mr Saatchi made his very generous offer. We understand that Mr Saatchi is now considering how he wants to move forward, and we are very happy to facilitate any discussions,” a spokesman told Bloomberg last week. Cultural fads come and go, and Charles may be ahead of the curve for the first time in a decade, with his diminishing interest in the expensive sport of writing art history with a cheque book.

But I hope that is not the case. Charles has rewritten cultural history three times already. None of Britain’s other collectors have done that – or have an ounce of his musketeer-like panache. He just needs to hire a few curators and reinvent his acquisitions strategy. Then perhaps he could change the art world again.

Ben Lewis’ article is nominally a review of book about Charles Saatchi and talk of which is irrelant to the purpose of republishing the article. That material, and there is little of it, has been edited out to avoid distraction.

It remains to be seen whether I have the talent and nous as an artist to realize the investment Saatchi Art are making in me. It won’t be from lack of effort on my part. I make the art, the art speaks for itself.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 21 October, 2017
Houston, Texas


Filed under: Current Events

My recognition so far as a practicing artist

So that readers do not think me ornery, as we say in this part of the world, let me recount the recognition got so far:

  • Selected as one of 128 Exhibiting Artists at The Other Arts Fair 9-12 November, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York
  • Solo showing of a selection of art work, 19 October to December 14, 2917, in the window of BB1 Classic Upper Gallery, Post Oak, Houston, Texas
  • Commissioned to write a report on the visit to TOAF, New York, to be published in the Online Edition of a Houston, Texas, magazine which has 1.000,000 online readers
  • Invited to submit to The Other Arts Fair, March 2018, to be held in Los Angeles, USA
  • Invited to submit to The Other Arts Fair, September, 2018, to be held in Bristol, UK

This recognition is not inconsiderable for any artist. And, given that the art I create, notably the digital abstract work, is not to everyone’s taste, is incredible. Recognition of an artist has to build to the point which, in seeing that a few collectors are buyers and purchasing, more casual buyers will think the work worth paying for rather than simply viewing it.

Everyone with any knowledge and connection to the art world likes the work. In the end, the artist is superfluous. The work speaks for itself.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 21 October, 2017

Filed under: Current Events

Opening of Art on Show at Gallery in Houston, Texas

One is extremely fortuate in having a blog as outlet with which to voice frustrations and, more rationally, views held.

The reception held Thursday 19 October, 2017 was less than an overwhelming success. Only a few friends and those whom I have done and currenly do business with attending. There are two aspects for me to take into account as I review the poor attendance. One is that casual aquantances do not have an interest in art of any form, and lead busy, demanding lives. Alongside that is the fact that established well known galleries send out hundreds of notifications, advertize heavily, including online, and gain only a few at the opening of often major artists whose work they are showing. And, few of those attending the art opening, are art buyers. At a recent reception I attended for a well known artist who has had many exhibitions of his work, a handful of people attended despite the fact that three artists were showing their work. About half of the work of my artist friend, whose work on show was one of the three, had been sold prior to the opening, underscoring the value the gallery placed in his work and his recognition as an artist.

Despite the poor attendance at the reception for my opening, which I assure I am not disappointed at – one has to be realistic – preparation for both the art gallery showing of a selection of my work and for the reception, allowed me to, for the first time, be aware and evaluate, what is required by way of work, time spent, and cost of such a preparation, which any artist is faced with every time they show. The work, logistics and cost must be far greater for an international show taking place thousands of miles away from the artist’s home.

One builds in contingency of cost and time, but, still, the unexpected occurs; sofware which normally works flawlessly, proves itself to be glitchy, files of art work move unaccountably some some corner of the machine, works which previously had appeared to be show-ready, suddenly reveal flaws not previously apparant.

I suppose the biggest factor on this occasion was the performance, or non performance, of an internationally known shipping company which does printing as well as being famous for its abiltiy to overnight to all corners of the globe millions of items every day of the year. I quip now that they ship fast and print slow. For the future, since they do excellent work, I shall allow a time factor for the printing, double that figure, and double it again.

Finally I would observe that I am not well known within the arts circles of the city in which I reside. No, correct that, my existence as a practicing artist is quite unknown. How could it be anything else when I began my carreer as an artist in March of this year.

Malcom D B Munro
Saturday 21 October, 2017

Filed under: Current Events

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