Magazine article Art Monthly

Lucky Kunst

Magazine article Art Monthly

Lucky Kunst

Article excerpt

Gregor Muir, Lucky Kunst: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art, Aurum Press, 2009, 250PP, pb 14-99 [pounds sterling], 978 1 8451339 0 0.

What exactly Gregor Muir hoped to achieve by writing this thoroughly pernicious chronicle of the rise and demise of young British art is hard to ascertain. While on one level Lucky Kunst is a highly Personal account of Muir's close affiliation with the artists, dealers and collectors we now regard as constituting the yBas, on another it PurPorts to be an impersonal history. The narrative--it's practically a fairy story--is set in London in the 1980s and 90s. The yBas were, Muir explains, 'the bad boys and girls of British art. Swaggering provocateurs ... flaunting their talent in front of high-powered collectors ... relentlessly promoting themselves'. But these two awkwardly intertwined approaches remain, in the end, irreconcilable. Is this a subjective account of what Muir terms, in his somewhat conformist prose, 'the scene' and 'fresh talent', or is it intended to be a substantial critical examination? Was the moment of the yBa an attack on dowdy conventions or, conversely, a highly cynical, self-promoting enterprise right from the start? Muir fails to consider these important questions, frittering away much of the book in pointless detail and inane--if often unintentionally amusing judgemental generalisations.

In paranoid fashion Muir repeatedly emphasises his own contribution to the yBa phenomenon. He is endlessly on the lookout for, once they begin to exhibit abroad, 'another excuse ... to hop on a plane and be at the centre of the action'. He insists (having spent much of the period at private views and parties with Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Jake & Dinos Chapman) that he was 'unbelievably close to everything ... observers may have seen me as something of an important player in and promoter of YBA'. The blatant self-promotion continues: 'This view would be supported by the countless interviews that I gave to the press ... as well as the number of occasions I was cited by significant individuals as playing an important role.' Chapter after chapter is spattered with linguistic vulgarities, as though a 'street level' writing style is somehow more convincing than subtlety or selfreflection. In fact this only reveals just how brainwashed by pop culture Muir and his Thatcher-generation compatriots really were. The romantic cliches come thick and fast: the grim poverty suffered by these young outsiders, their rebellious spirit, their camaraderie and unified stance against a world too insensitive to grasp their vision of art. But unsubstantiated anecdotes carry little critical weight. These artists don't work, they 'struggle', they are invariably 'cool'--a vacuous designation if ever there was one--and it's clear from the beginning that nothing is going to stop these go-getters from finding the success they know they deserve.

Muir's sense of achievement, like that of the yBa phenomenon itself, is completely tied to marketing and economic gain; no different, then, to that of those institutions against which the artists supposedly rebelled. This parity of interests militates against the idea that the yBas were genuinely disruptive of capitalist culture. Rather, they clearly, like their apologist, swallowed the bait. The motor for this yBa success, Muir tells us, was shock and sensationalism, connecting this 'aesthetic' with the type of imagery favoured by advertising director Charles Saatchi. …

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