Notebook: Guessing the Exact Title of a Turner Watercolour Is Impossible-Even for Nicholas Serota
Millard, Rosie, New Statesman (1996)
The signs looked auspicious at Tate Modern for the Patrons' Art Quiz. We were all divided on to tables named after art movements. Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director, and Peter Blake were Pointillists. Michael Craig-Martin, begetter of the Young British Artists, was a Pre-Raphaelite. I was on the Rubi-Conicals, whose meaning was a bit more obscure. It didn't matter: much more exciting was that we had Judith Keppel, the first winner of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, on our team. So we had at least one person familiar with a quiz triumph. Each table was equipped with a Tate curator and an artist. Our curator was in charge of the permanent collection at Tate Britain. Our artist was Michael Landy, famous for taking apart and destroying all his possessions.
So as Bamber Gascoigne (yes, the great man himself--they don't stint on the quizmasters at Tate) banged the gong and opened the quiz with the poser "Which art movement was associated with Andre Breton?", the Rubi-Conicals felt good scribbling down "surrealism".
The next round involved identifying works in the Tate collection. Matisse's Snail, Epstein's Rock Drill: so far, so easy. But getting the exact title of a Richard Deacon sculpture or a Turner watercolour was almost impossible. For everyone. "How did the director do?" twinkled Gascoigne, forcing Serota to admit that he was not au fait with the title of every image in the great Tate empire. Perhaps he was trying to clear his head in order to focus on who said "I need art like I need God" (Tracey Emin) in the quotations round, or who moved from Bath to live in Pall Mall (Gainsborough) in the Blue Plaque round. …