Magazine article The Spectator

The Art Game

Magazine article The Spectator

The Art Game

Article excerpt

What's going to happen next in art? That, of course, is the big question. The honest answer, as far as most of us are concerned, is doubtless `search me', or possibly 'Saatchi'. Because, if anyone knows, it is Charles Saatchi, collector and advertising man extraordinary. Indeed, there are those in the art world sufficiently crazed with suspicion to believe that he not only knows what new fashions will appear, he actually makes them appear, manipulating the strings behind the scenes. At any rate he or the Saatchi Gallery - has come up with a novel stylistic tag: the New Neurotic Realism. And also an exhibition full of transatlantic artists most of us on this side of the pond have never heard of.

The new style and the new exhibition are not explicitly attached to one another. The New Neurotic Realism is supposed to be what's going to happen in British art after the Young British Artists - that is, Damien Hirst & co., as exhibited at the Royal Academy last autumn in Sensation. It is outlined and illustrated in a book of the same name (edited by Dick Price, Saatchi Gallery, L24.95). And one must admit that prima facie it's rather a fetching notion, providing as it does the solution to another perennial critical problem: what on earth are we going to call what's going on (whatever it is)?

It was a defect of the present, or as it may already be the last, style that nobody ever came up with a monica for it `Young British Artists' being plainly the result of taxonomic desperation. At one point, I proposed 'nerdism', but to my disappointment, nobody took it up. The new movement, if movement it is, starts off with the great advantage of having a name (though, as is frequently the case with art movements, it is not quite clear whether there is any common factor among the artists alleged to be involved apart from the label).

It is, of course, one of the iron rules of the art game that something must be going on, even in periods such as the present decade -- which has been diffuse and muddling to a degree. It may come as slightly more of a surprise to members of the general art public to discover that all those shocking young artists they were first introduced to by Sensation -- Tracey Emin, the Chapmans et al - are, to the art world, already thoroughly familiar, and that therefore it is time for something new.

So the theory works fine. It is when we descend to brass tacks that things become a little more awkward and prickly. The New Neurotic Realists turn out, like the Young British Artists, to be a very mixed bunch; at least one of them, Ron Mueck, the hyperrealist sculptor, was one of the last lot having featured sensationally in Sensation with a tiny, gruesome piece called `Dead Dad'. There is quite a lot of photography in the NNR book, plus some disconcertinglooking sculpture including a sort of stalagmite purporting to be made of the bodies of dead rats - all pretty much business as usual.

The novel feature is that there is also a good deal, even a majority, of figurative painting (much more than there was amongst the YBAs). The painters involved are fairly diverse, but there is a common thread of sorts in an attachment to low-key, mundane, but also weird or nasty, sights. This switch to painting is the big new development, if I've got the argument right. The idea is that painting disgraced itself in the Eighties with an outbreak of crude and embarrassing expressionism (the artistic equivalent to the lurid braces and loud paisley ties of the era). Now, having served a sentence in the dog-house - just as the slow-footed were again announcing its death -- painting can return and deal with much the same range of seamy, mundane material as the Young British Artists, but also perform tasks with which other media have difficulty, such as looking good on the wall. …

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