I Was Wrong to Apologise for Writing That Tracey Emin Couldn't Think Her Way out of a Paper Bag. (Diary)

New Statesman (1996), February 11, 2002 | Go to article overview

I Was Wrong to Apologise for Writing That Tracey Emin Couldn't Think Her Way out of a Paper Bag. (Diary)


IVAN MASSOW

Peering between Jake's ears (my hunter), I spot the cheery face of Richard De'Pelle, whose land we were about to scar with fox-hungry hooves as we thunder through the Blackmore Vale. "Is that a concept whip in your hand?" he smiles, waving his own. I suddenly realise that, in the style of a truly contemporary radical, I've become a hero to the upper classes. All this because I (chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Art or ICA) questioned, in this magazine, whether conceptual art has become the dotcom of the art establishment. Momentarily, a shiver more cutting than the Somerset chill: I remember the hatchet job being planned by Janet Street-Porter. Apparently, she's picking up on Tracey Emin's assertions that I'm little more than a publicity seeker - ironic, considering my accusers. "I hear Saatchi wants to buy you as a bit of conceptual art," pipes up a top-hatted gentleman on a feisty filly.

Neighbours Tom and Jane wave me off from my Frome townhouse, as a lunch date with the artist Michael Newberry and my sparky assistant, Lisa, drags me from my usual Sunday lunch by the Aga. I thank Jane for the fondue of the night before and wonder whether, perhaps, I'll be finding myself with a little more time to cook for them soon. Freddie, my trusted spaniel, gives me the old dewy-eyed routine. It's so hard being a weekend parent.

Michael turns out to be as earnest as only an American can be. "This is so educational," he announces with a drawl, evidently finding it hard to adjust from the pace of life on the Greek island where he paints. "Soundbite, soundbite, go, go, go!" "Well, it's fire with fire," I remind him, before sending him home for an afternoon nap. Lisa has some information on Kant - the great-grandfather of conceptual art, in as much as most conceptual art is little more than philosophy. I'm not sure how much GLR' s drive-time show will want to hear about Kant (an 18th-century philosopher who famously thought his way out of a sack of potatoes). Luckily, 9pm arrives just in time. Nicky Haslam is at the door and he's taking me to the pre-Warhol Party party.

They're honouring Nicholas Serota, head of Tate Modern, and one of the "art tsars" I fingered in my NS attack. "Have you met Ivan Massow?" asks Nicky naughtily at the party - grabbing me before I could escape to the bar. "No," comes the cool reply. "Don't worry," I apologise, filling the silence, "they're sacking me tomorrow." Serota, icy cold, exits with the words: "They should have done it two weeks ago."

As it turns out, the party isn't that bad. Nicky was right. I needed to face my demons. In fact, most people - Mick Jagger, Salman Rushdie, Will Self, Alan Yentob - only had words of support. …

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