The Freeze Generation and Beyond

By Anderson-Spivy, Alexandra | Art Journal, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

The Freeze Generation and Beyond


Anderson-Spivy, Alexandra, Art Journal


The Freeze Generation and Beyond

Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection. Exh. cat. London: Royal Academy of Arts and New York Thames and Hudson, 1998. Essays by Brooks Adams, Lisa Jardine, Martin Malony, Norman Rosenthal, and Richard Shone, with photographs of the artists by Johnnie Shand Kydd. 222 pp., 104 color ills., 75 b/w. $29.95 paper.

Exhibition schedule: Royal Academy of Arts, London: September 18-December 28, 1997

Damien Hirst. I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One,Always, Forever, Now. NewYork: Monacelli Press, 1997. 334 pp.,700 ills.$100.

Matthew Collings. Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop:The London Artworld from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst. Cambridge: 21 Publishing, Ltd., 1997.209 pp. $29.95 paper.

Louisa Buck. Moving Targets:A User's Guide to British Art Now. London:Tate Gallery Publishing, Ltd., 1998.192 pp., 60 b/w ills. $25 paper.

Richard A. Born. From Blast to Pop: Aspects of Modern British Art, 1915-1965. Exh. cat. Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago and University of Chicago Press, 1997. Essay by Keith Hartley. 136 pp., 13 color ills., 100 b/w. $29.95.

If "Sensation" had not opened so soon after Princess Diana's funeral (waist-high heaps of cellophane-wrapped floral tributes were still wilting on the park lawns in front of Kensington Palace), this large exhibition of recently trendy British contemporary art would have generated even more hype than it did. Even so, an unusually high level of media attention accompanied its opening at the Royal Academy, which for the occasion cast aside its stuffy posture as the backbone of the establishment. On September 18, 1997 (opening day), television reporters, British bobbies, tourists, and members of Mothers against Murder and Aggression packed the museum's courtyard. MMA was protesting the inclusion in the exhibition of Marcus Harvey's 1995 Chuck Close-like portrait of notorious serial child-killer Myra Hindley, whose monochrome likeness the artist had rendered using the tiny handprints of a child.1 (Harvey's more typical, impastoed work relates him to the Kitchen Sink painters of the fifties.)

London television news broadcasts and newspapers immediately registered the requisite outrage over the exhibition. "The Royal Academy of Porn" read the Daily Minor headline. Sculptor Michael Sandle resigned from the Academy in protest, saying "this is the most despicable thing the Royal Academy rulers have ever done."2 Others obligingly labeled the show obscene, offensive, and tasteless. The result? A predictably boffo box office. (Sex and violence sell!) Reacting to the publicity with the customary reflex, an audience of over 65o,ooo people queued up during the three-month run to see what the fuss was about. The Royal Academy's coffers were enriched and curator Norman "Zeitgeist" Rosenthal had once again skillfully ridden inside the curl of the wave of artistic fashion.

Perhaps the most pertinent discomfort the exhibition provoked was not caused by the works themselves but by the cozy relationship that underlay the whole event. This was the rapprochement existing between the Royal Academy and Charles Saatchi. In short, Saatchi had managed virtually to buy the store. Items from his collection comprised the bulk of the works included in the show. And not only did the legendary advertising mogul lend the art from his own collection and pay for its shipping and the insurance, he also served as the exhibition's co-curator.3

The historic and aesthetic worth of the actual exhibition must be considered in light of a larger set of goals that underpinned it. Several things seem to have been going on at once. First, the aggrandizement of Saatchi's position as England's own postmodern Medici and the validation of his taste by that bastion of the establishment, the Royal Academy. Second, old-fashioned boosterism wearing the timely costume of cultural tourism. …

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