Launching Art Fortnight, Nick Serota's Style Was More Great Dictator Than Good Director
Millard, Rosie, New Statesman (1996)
Inventing a special fortnight for London to celebrate its position in the art market is a good idea. Most of the time, there is such a chasm between private and public art on display in the capital that it is only notable exceptions, such as Charles Saatchi in County Hall, who seem to have the energy to bridge it. Unfortunately, Art Fortnight started with a most uneasy lurch.
Last year, Tate Britain held a hilariously eccentric night celebrating British Art Week. Guests were served at a bar made from huge plastic "eggs", while the august composer John Tavener DJ'd for the night and operated the decks with his own ambient sound.
This year, the arrival of an official fortnight meant such a do was ramped up a good few notches. People turned up at Tate Modern in suits--never a good sign. Some people had paid [pounds sterling]100 plus VAT for tickets. Meanwhile, the freeloaders (artists, journalists and so on) wandered around the Turbine Hall chatting quietly. Suddenly there was an announcement. The director was here! We all gazed to the bridge crossing the hall, around 50 feet above us, as Nicholas Serota appeared and delivered a booming speech that reverberated in the cavernous space in a distinctly regal manner. Hemmed in by railings, up on a podium, glasses glinting in the spotlight, Sir Nick's style seemed more great dictator than good director, and caused a bit of sniggering in the ranks.
It was unfortunate, because the style of the fortnight is meant to be one of friendly accessibility. The programme includes all manner of fascinating events, from a gallery "crawl" to lectures, films and invitations to see hitherto private collections. One of these is at the private bank EFG, which owns a spectacular 18th-century town house in Mayfair. …