Lucky Kunst, the Rise and Fall of Young British Art by Gregor Muir…Counterpoint

01Nov10

by Gina Beavers

Reading this book is a little like reading a really long People magazine, except without enough  pictures to make it completely titillating.  Not as much a tell-all as it advertises itself to be, the author mentions so many people in the YBA’s orbit that it’s impossible to retain all of them. And that generous inclusiveness as well as too-general descriptions of drug-use and other antics gives the impression that he’s hedging his bets.

Incidentally, the author’s encyclopedic impulse is also reflected in the number of bars and watering holes he mentions, making it a candidate for an excellent record or guide to every place to get a drink in London, since 1990.

As a book, it doesn’t really hang together. A stream of consciousness, there’s no building, no suspense and it jumps around, back and forth, between artists, referring redundantly to London’s economic decay and successive growth.  Could he have organized it more? A chapter on each artist, a chapter on each year, a single chapter on the economic scene in London and that’s it. Or, could he have focused a chapter each on the main elements that defined the YBA’s? The working class background, the partying, the scene extending to musicians and designers, the sensationalism of the work? There were a lot of options here, in terms of painting a more coherent picture, but that would probably have required an ’embedded’ journalist who wasn’t partaking quite so much in the actual party.

There were a few interesting discussions. One about The Shop (68), a brainchild of Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas where they sold original creations for cheap and entertained people at a make-shift bar. Interesting too, were Gregor Muir’s ideas about the YBA’s artwork being a reflection of British tabloid culture, in its sensationalism, a uniquely British form of Pop and critique. It also gave a clear picture of the visibility of the Turner Prize in England, with the ceremony being televised and the winners followed in the tabloids. It’s difficult to imagine an analogous situation in the US, with American artists, even when thinking about the heyday of the mid-century Abstractionists. Finally, the background on Charles Saatchi, while interesting, was also the winner for the revelation which left the worst taste in my mouth: that his advertising firm, ‘Saatchi and Saatchi helped to define Margaret Thatcher’s political image.’ (36)

Ultimately, this book, while having moments of interest, was a messy, heady, opportunistic rush, much like the scene itself–with little you can take with you in the end, like a bad hangover.

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