That'll Do Nicely, Sir

Art Monthly, October 2007 | Go to article overview

That'll Do Nicely, Sir


Remember the Not the Nine O'Clock News spoof TV ad--the one where Pamela Stephenson, at sight of the familiar green card being flashed at her, repeats the mantra: 'American Express? That'll do nicely, sir!' adding, as she unbuttons her blouse, 'and would you like to rub my tits too?' The series began broadcasting in 1979, the year that Margaret Thatcher came to power, and this sketch perfectly captured the 'greed is good' spirit of the 80s, the legacy of which is still being felt. In 1997, when Tony Blair came to power, he made no secret of his admiration for the Iron Lady, an endorsement intended to signal to the City that it was 'business as usual'. Anyone who hoped that, with the accession of Gordon Brown as prime minister, a new era was about to dawn will have had their hopes dashed by the spectacle of a Labour prime minister welcoming Lady Thatcher--dressed symbolically in shocking pink--back to No 10 for tea while publicly praising her 'conviction politics'.

That the spirit of the 80s is still with us is evident from Brown's approach to public spending. He has made it clear that the public sector as a whole will have to 'tighten its belt', while he has done nothing to suggest that the creeping privatisation of public services will be halted. As to the arts, never very high on Brown's agenda during his Treasury days, their funding continues to be raided to support the 2012 Olympics programme, forcing museums and galleries back into the waiting arms of the private sector to make up the shortfall. The Arts Council, meanwhile, has been recast as the entrepreneurial go-between, even going so far as to endorse vanity exhibitions of private collections in a publicly funded gallery, ostensibly to 'stimulate many people to enjoy collecting in their own way' as part of its 'Own Art' scheme. 'The Collector Series' is a three-year initiative at the Baltic, Gateshead, which is described by the gallery as a 'collaboration'. The first is with Newcastle-born collector Anita Zabludowicz and Sir Elton John, and is being promoted as offering the public 'a unique insight into individual and corporate collections' and 'rare access' to otherwise private collections. Despite director Peter Doroshenko's bullish claims to the contrary, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that this initiative is an opportunity for the cash-strapped flagship regional gallery to plug gaps in its exhibition programme. The Baltic has had a difficult time lately and things could have been even worse: at one time it was rumoured that in return for the company's support, the gallery might be renamed The Northern Rock Centre for Contemporary Art. …

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