Two years ago, cultural critic, professor and art writer extraordinaire, Dave Hickey, proclaimed he quit. He left, fed-up participating within the ‘courtier class’ of writers who pander to the monied and powerful collectors, curators, and consultants. He said he was tired of being a cog in the very well-lubricated jack that is elevating our overrated-and-often-over-injected artists, like Hunch of Mutton’s mother figure, Tracy Emin. He was cashing in his chips, and heading for the hills ( of Santa Fe, specifically!),  pining for the yester-years of true rock n’ roll, sex, drugs and anti-establishment art on the way.

Almost exactly one year later, Hickey shows the courtier class how fed up he is by publishing Pirates and Farmers, and just this past winter chose to publicly discuss his new book in the only arena where one can both be fed up, get fed and sing along to Grease at the same time – Grand Central Market, LA.

Well Dave, Hunch of Mutton is with you –  I un-quit too.

So here goes HoM clamoring back in again, taking cues this time from the ultimate on-again, off-again writer. After all, anyone who describes their writing as ‘inadvertent obituaries‘ has my attention. Thank you, Dave, for showing us there’s always room for one more.

Let’s begin with Dave and his more recent rants about identity politics, or for that matter any discourse or movement which gains influence and forces artists to self-reflect. Hasn’t it always been that way? Since when is art truly guided by artists? Like a bickering couple, Art World and Artist vie for control, struggling to hold on to it just a bit longer, and then ultimately fail, watching the other co-op, usurp, subvert, or otherwise destroy what one just finished building. But this couple can’t divorce.

Photo by Francis + Francis

And Dave knows this. Read this interview, and then read this article in the Guardian. His ‘quitting’ announcement went something like:

So you’re quitting the art world?

Dave: Yes those people suck.

And no more writing then?

Dave: Damn fuckin’ straight.

So what will you do instead?

Dave: Write.

Come on, Dave, by your own admission you were never quitting, you were just cashing in your well-earned art-world pension, and that’s OK. You’ve earned it, and now you have the privilege few others can ever afford. You get to bask in the glory that is unbridled judgement and criticism devoid of any semblance of a filter – a position embraced by retirees world over!

Let’s start reveling in the delight of straightforward appraisal, and having one too many nips of sherry along the way with the little lady, Libby Lumpkin. Besides Dave, you’re already doing it. I don’t like pasting quotes from other articles, but this one is just too damn good:

“Well, I think artists should be proud and too cool for school. I told my students in my last class that I always had my TA grade their papers. They asked why I didn’t read their papers. I asked them how much they would enjoy teaching a swimming class where everybody drowned.”

That’s about as subtle as a shark in a bathtub. And what did you say about professors being ‘big fucking failures‘?

Hats off to you Dave, onward and upward!


Last week, Martin Kippenberger’s $1.1 million installation, Wenn’s anfaengt durch die Decke zu tropfen (When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling) was scrubbed clean by a janitor in Dortmund, Germany, reportedly by accident. But I keep wishing it had been intentional. Then we’d have none of this patronizing tone towards cleaners who ought to know or be trained better, nor any of this tired chat about cryptic, aloof and inaccessible contemporary art. Instead imagine “anti-80s artist strikes back, posing as jannie” or “In response to Kippenberger’s Street Lamps for Drunks, inebriated cleaning woman creates Brillo Pads for Dicks”.

Moreover, it got me thinking about the role of labor in the lives of creatives, and particularly cleaning. I’ve known artists to clean houses through and after school, and curators who keep arguably ‘custodial’ day jobs. Indeed, even this week I was reminded by Roberta Smith in this NYT article that Maurizio Cattelan’s mother was a cleaning lady, and he’s recently been doing some scrubbing out of his own too.

In his most recent exhibition on view at the Guggenheim, Maurizio has presented one piece consisting of every work he produced in his 21 year career as an artist (that is, minus 2 that the owners refused to loan) strung up gallows-style in the rotunda. He’s titled it “All”.

I always thought the rotunda was begging to be used for some sort of, er, dramatic ending, but I hadn’t envisioned it quite like this. I give him kudos for the gall – dangling the objects of your career as a collection of mish-mashed knick-knacks, out of context, out of reach, and at times out of view takes guts, and a dark, humorous bird-flipping attitude that I admire. And as if that wasn’t enough, he goes one step further, following in the footsteps of rockstars, announcing he’s retiring.

We’ve seen how well it works for publicity in the music industry ( to name just a few: Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, and my personal favorite – Cher in 2003 calling Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, J-Lo, and Jessica Simpson “little hos” on her farewell tour), and know how great it is for launching second careers in the athletic arena ( um, Michael Jordan and Roger Clemens).

But I’ve been racking my brain to come up with other visual artists who have publicly retired, and so far haven’t come up with much. Abramović and Ulay? Doesn’t really work, that was a partnership not a career ender. Damien Hirst and returning to painting? Arguably a career-ender, but no retirement. Steven Soderbergh? That works! But it is specific to films….. others?

Seems like Cattelan might be the lonely leader amongst artists for retirement. And for one obsessed with failure, Maurizio may have found yet another way to fail harder and better than others.

Just be careful, when Maurizio’s work starts dripping from the ceiling, we can’t be sure what puddles will form, or who will be scrubbing them out.

"Don't Adapt, Detach", Karla Black 2009; on view at GoMA as part "You, Me, Something Else"

A recent trip over to Glasgow’s GoMA has me thinking once again about all the artists flocking to or through Glasgow, yearning for a spot in one of the Weegie catapults (Weegie = short for Glaswegian) to land them in international art stardom-land, and the ones who have already made it across.

The culprit this time – the GoMA sculpture exhibition, “You, Me, Something Else” which neatly collates for us ten artists who’ve successfully been flung forward, and whose names  no doubt ring familiar to any Weegie: Claire Barclay, Karla Black, Nick Evans, Alex Frost, Lorna Macintyre, James McLardy, Andrew Miller, Mary Redmond and Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan.

Just to review, as one indicator, Glasgow artists have held over 10 Turner Prize nominations starting with Ian Hamilton Finlay in 1985, and Douglas Gordon getting the whole pie in 1996. In 2009 and 2010, Lucy Skaer (nominee), Richard Wright (winner 2009) and Susan Philipsz (winner 2010) got some Turner loving, and this year Martin Boyce is up, along with Karla Black who is pulling out her mediums of choice – fake tan, glitter eyeliner, spray deodorant and lip gloss – to sway affections. Charlotte Higgins for the Guardian has repeatedly spoken of the trend towards the Glasgow crew, and even points to Karla Black as the likely winner for this year.

And let’s not forget the 1990 distinction of European Capital of Culture, bringing with it a tourism onslaught and subsequent Glasgow fan fare that’s produced just about all the tunnocks tea cake T shirts and aprons one can stomach. What’s more, the ‘cultural sector’ of Glasgow employs more workers than Glasgow’s legacy of ship building ever did in its heyday – a fact the city’s council is ever increasingly willing to admit (download the Glasgow Cultural Strategy if you’re really, really interested (yawn) ).

A friend of mine recently likened Glasgow to Jamaica. Yes, – Jamaica. He argued that the two have one very big thing in common – a disproportionate relationship between geographic scale and  artistic influence. He was speaking primarily of Jamaica’s musical influence, which is also of course enormously relevant when speaking of Glasgow too (Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, and the Vaselines just to name a few). And I think Glasgow’s influence and history is similarly complex.

So what exactly has Glasgow got that continues to produce such a cadre of international art stars?

First, Glasgow’s got grit and from what I understand, used to have a lot more of it. This keeps rents low ( #1 bait to attracting artists) and brings a lack of pretentiousness -a friendly attitude towards getting on with it, however ridiculous or outlandish an idea may be. You might even say an obstinate confidence – a ‘fuck you’ stance towards anyone or any institution that says it can’t play the game. Don’t have a gallery? We’ll start one! Need buyers? Go directly to art fairs, and avoid the middle man that is London.

And lastly, there’s of course the Glasgow School of Art, its history and legacy, it’s Master of Fine Art programme and undergraduate Sculpture and Environmental Art Department that have produced many of the international climbers of the past 20 years. The school has lured students in with relatively affordable tuition costs, great faculty, and a reputation for internationally diverse programmes. And for the past twenty plus years, they’ve been reaping the benefits on the backs of their alumni.

But that’s all changing.

Just as Glasgow has started shaking its new money-maker industry (“Glasgow with Style…” oy), higher powers are getting in the way.

With changes to the UK’s education policy, tuition has sky-rocketed for nationals, and the UK Border Authority has instigated changes that severely limit which international students can enter (essentially based on how much money you bring with you into the UK)  and eliminate the option to stay post graduation as an artist. All of these changes have already happened, or go into effect this year.

Whether or not up-and-coming Glasgow artists can weather the new climate remains to be seen. The next generation will have to figure out a new game plan, re-invent those catapults and strengthen that ‘fuck you’ stance.

"There Will Be No Miracles Here", Nathan Coley, a Glasgow School of Art graduate, installation view Tate Liverpool; image by Mot@flickr

(Tracey Emin, Why I never became a dancer, 1995, © Tracey Emin)

Tonight is the eve of Tracey Emin’s exhibition, Love is What you Want, last day at the Hayward Gallery in London, and as she’s already had so much to do with the founding of Hunch of Mutton, I thought we’d revisit some of the ever awe inspiring material from the piece of work that is Tracey Emin.

My first recollection were the politically insane remarks she made, recounted ever so well by Mark Brown for the Guardian back in May. But just to highlight:

“And remember, Tory people are massive collectors of the arts. For a lot of my friends, who think I’m crazy voting for the Tories – I want to know who buys their work? Who are the biggest philanthropists? I promise you, it’s not Labour voters.”

And even more fun were the 248 comments posted in less then 48 hours to the Guardian’s website:

– Dross-peddler.
– My name was on that tent. I shagged her.
– Does this make tracey a ‘fuckist’?

But what I found really interesting was the outrage over what she told John Humphrys in a recorded interview for promotion of the exhibition: that she’d prefer her epitaph to read ‘fuck me while I’m sleeping’, describing it as an ‘irreverent jokey way’ of her desire for her work to live on after she’s gone.

I was curious about this phrase – it seemed too coined, too polished as it rolled out of her mouth during the interview to be on the spot crafted just for John, and alas, it isn’t. She’s been refining it for almost 20 years. I discovered this 1997 article in the Independent of interviews between Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin each talking about how they met, as well as how Tracey can “get on my tits” (well said Sarah) and Sarah’s “bolshy” personality. But at some point in the mid-nineties, Tracey tells Sarah her preferred, and now ever perpetuated epitaph. A little later, Sarah produced it as tombstone for an exhibition, which promptly lead to a screaming match of sorts between the two over ownership.

Speaking of Screaming:

That’s Tracey’s, er, commemorative cat bowl, on sale exclusively at Selfridges. Cats seem to play a dominant role in Tracey’s work. Double back to that video with John Humphry’s here – kitty’s in the hayward too.

Hunch of Mutton is devoted to art, culture and all things hunch worthy. As awesome as Tracey Emin, Hunch of Mutton is chopping indecisive, self-indulgent, quasi-feminist elbow room through the art world, hoping sloppy antics and can-I-take-that-back posturing will land a drunken Channel 4  interview, skyrocketing the site to large-scale notoriety, offending conservatives and liberals alike.  Or at the very least, getting more bodies out looking at art and asking the right questions.

I’m a writer based some where between Glasgow and New York. Contact me at hunch of mutton  at  g  mail  do t c  om.