From Hogarth’s beautifully executed satire to Sarah Lucas’ mocking yob machismo and her bawdy visual puns, humor has always been the sharpest tool the British use to attack hypocrisy, injustice, and social inequality. “The Rebel,” which launches in London’s Notting Hill this week with an event promising “wines, cheese, crystallized ginger, and harp music,” is a limited-edition satirical magazine produced by the Sartorial Contemporary Art gallery. It’s carrying on the Hogarth tradition with its first issue, which is dedicated to the subjects of class and art. Among its headlines are such tantalizing topics as “23 Artists Tell Us About Their Social Class,” and “The Art World’s 50 Least Important People.” Before the launch,
Style.com exchanged e-mails with Athens-born Gretta Sarfaty Marchant and English artists Jasper Joffe and Harry Pye, who offered their insights as “The Rebel’s” founding editors.
A first issue about class seems very English. Is the English art world really classist these days?
Harry Pye: The English are obsessed with class. I’ve noticed that in America if they remake a sitcom that features a cockney or south London wide boy, they’ll make the character black. I think that in America it’s less about class and more about color, and African-Americans or Mexicans are seen as the underdogs.
Gretta Sarfaty Marchant: Britain is the most civilized and polite place I’ve ever been. British people are creative, but best of all exciting. They have a rough side to them, like pirates. They can suddenly turn and be like a pirate. I find that really fascinating.
Who has an easier time—affluent, Oxford-educated genius Conrad Shawcross; Richard Billingham, whose art began by being about his chav childhood; or an artist with a rougher accent and rougher work?
Jasper Joffe: I don’t think it holds you back being from a poor background once you get on the big stage, but the terrible school you go to in England if you live in a crappy area definitely doesn’t help you get anywhere.
HP: Morrissey often quotes a story about Kirk Douglas saying he was always waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and tell him to go home. I believe that a lot of working-class people who’ve done well would relate to this idea that no matter how many awards, backslaps, and money they get, there will always be a part of them that believes they’re inferior and that one day they’ll have to hand it all back. Whereas someone from a privileged background is much more likely to be nominated for an award and think, “Yes, quite rightly, too.”
Who are your ideal readers?
HP: I like the Tony Hancock film, “The Rebel.” I like the way the Hancock character believed he should have more success and respect and wasn’t happy with his lot. He is our ideal reader.
JJ: I’d like Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin to read it. They were always publishing their own magazines and books, and even set the type themselves.
Do you think the art world generally takes itself too seriously?
HP: All the best artists had a decent sense of humor. However, there is a lot of fear in England that if an artist makes a joke in his or her work then somehow it’s proof that it’s all a big con. The truth is, there’s many a true word spoken in jest.
JJ: I think generally the art world/art often pretends to be ironic but actually isn’t. A bit like me.
“Well, it’s a conversation in the air, isn’t it?” So comments Neville Wakefield, one of many members of the Art Basel tribe to do some heavy thinking this week on the subject of bursting bubbles. “‘When?’ That’s the question on everyone’s mind.” For some critical perspective on the ifs and whens of the art bubble, Basel-goers should check out tomorrow night’s WORTH, a panel cocurated by Wakefield and presented by the Accompanied Literary Society. Featuring Jeffrey Deitch, Dan Graham, David Ross, and Jerry Saltz, and moderated by Glenn O’Brien, the dinner and discussion is part of a celebration of the U.S. launch of “The Worth of Art (2)” by Judith Benhamou-Huet. “Coming from outside the art world, I found the first ‘Worth of Art’ an indispensable textbook when I read it in 2001,” explains Accompanied head Brooke Geahan, who helped coax the book’s sequel into limited-edition print. “Since then, obviously, art has become a much larger presence in the culture, for reasons that have almost everything to do with money. I wanted to find a way to talk about the elephant in the room.” Rolodex in hand, Geahan called on friends at Swarovski and Assouline to get “The Worth of Art (2)” translated and published in time for Art Basel Miami. She kept on dialing as she planned WORTH, snagging the MisShapes to DJ the post-dinner blowout at the Raleigh. In ‘other words, the art party’s not over quite yet.
Struggling artists complain that the art world is more about who you know than what you do. In “Brief Encounters: An Expanding Group Exhibition,” the Caren Golden Fine Art gallery playfully mocks—and exploits—the notion of networking by asking current gallery artists to invite their friends to show at the gallery. What started with four artists represented by Caren Golden and two invited ones expanded into a 31-participant show, and each artist was asked to consider their list of invitees as their personal “generations of successors.” The chain starting with Jean Blackburn, whose “Pottery Barn” pokes fun at cozy design aesthetics, evolved into an electrifyingly colorful Bauhaus-inspired oil-on-canvas distillation of the look she plays with. Just as family trees trace hereditary traits, “Brief Encounters” is as much a portrait of each Caren Golden artist as it is a show curated by the gallery’s roster, and it demonstrates how you’re never more than six degrees apart in New York’s intimate art community.
From Theda Bara’s surprisingly scanty garb in 1917′s “Cleopatra” to the pastel-colored silks Kirsten Dunst wore in “Marie Antoinette,” costume design is central to telling a film’s story. In “Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design” (Harper Collins), Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the Academy Award-nominated costume designer who put Harrison Ford in a fedora and brown leather jacket for his turn as Indiana Jones, covers all the big clothes films (“The Women,” “Gone With the Wind,” the Wes Anderson oeuvre) and throws in some fitting-room tidbits for good measure. Marilyn Monroe, for example, had only one rule when it came to what she wore on screen: “It had to show a little something.” Hey, it worked.
Intellectualism as glamour is the message of Peter Hujar’s sexy 1975 portrait of Susan Sontag lying on the floor in a tight, ribbed turtleneck, contemplating indisputably important matters with her arms tucked under her head. The first U.K. retrospective of Hujar’s work, which opens today at London’s ICA, includes his mostly black-and-white portraits of New York’s avant-garde stars and nudes, and the gritty, glittering street life of Manhattan in the seventies and eighties. Hujar, who died from complications from AIDS in 1987, began his career as a fashion photographer and became the star chronicler of the city’s underground with era-defining portraits such as “Candy Darling on Her Deathbed.” His images of Sontag, David Wojnarowicz, and Divine are all on display at the ICA, but Hujar’s body of work transcended particular individuals. Rather, it was an extended, loving portrait of New York at a time when, as the gallery reminds us, “the city was financially impoverished but artistically rich.”