The Olympic propaganda juggernaut trundles on, anti-aircraft missiles primed, competing trademarks annihilated, blaring out 24/7 how happy and patriotic we all must be that McDonald’s, BMW and their ilk have built their own UK government-subsidised VIP hospitality suite version of the Vatican in our capital city.
I’m trying really hard to think of something that has less to do with art than a collaboration between BMW‘s publicity department, the ICA, LOCOG, the Mayor of London’s office, and some Nathan Barleys who claim to be ‘intervening at an urban scale to re-imagine life in the city’. BMW is always highlighted like this in the press release, as if a lollygagging teenager doodled on it with a fluorescent pen. Later she drew ‘I ♥ BMW’ on her bag in Tipp-Ex.
‘The ICA has sought out some exciting emerging names in design’ to collaborate with for their forthcoming, uncritical and fawning Art Drive! [sic] event at a car park in Shoreditch this July and August – “Shoreditch, it’s still edgy, yeah?” Unfortunately, it seems they didn’t seek out any ‘exciting emerging names’ that happen to be attached to artists. ‘Emerging’ is often just code for ‘will comply and work for peanuts’, anyway.
The list of artists mainly consists of septuagenarians or octogenarians who haven’t made any relevant work since… well, probably since they started thinking it was OK to accept commissions that have no artistic merit because they mainly benefit BMW‘s mission to massage their brand identity at corporate PR events like this one. What’s the opposite of emerging names? Retracting names, puckering into themselves like a snail? Not everything an artist does is automatically or necessarily art, even if they say it is. If art has an opposite, it’s probably advertising and PR.
The remainder of the artists are dead (hint to artists who want to be successful, lauded by the art world and get loads of sponsorship: die), or they’re the yin and yang of dated American postmodern dead horse floggers – Jeff Koons and Jenny Holzer, though I doubt anybody expects very much of these two anyway, so it’s hard to be disappointed in them. Or they’re people like Olafur Eliasson, artists who should probably be slapped hard in the face by a good friend while they still have some credibility left. The ICA’s concurrent exhibition is Bruce Nauman, by the way. Another emerging British talent who’ll really benefit from this kind of support at such a critical stage in… oh, wait.
According to their own press release, ‘the ICA was founded by a group of radical artists and writers in the 1940s as a space for experimental and challenging arts practice.’ Participating with such naïve gusto in this crass, egregious piece of BMW advertising isn’t experimental or challenging. Why does it seem to be the universal rule that artists who don’t need more money get money thrown at them, while artists who would benefit from some investment never get a bean?
It’s the central flaw at the very heart of the idea that philanthropy can ever entirely – or even largely – replace state funding for the arts, or for anything else: unless there are laws and statutes to compel them, people in control of the big money simply can’t be trusted to know – and care – who or what needs to be nurtured right now.
It’s arrant poppycock to claim that Art Drive! is about finding a wide audience, or about the enjoyment of art, or about artists. There’s only one thing being highlighted here: BMW.