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Classical music has no Anish Kapoor, thank God! [Oct. 19th, 2009|05:42 pm]
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Anyone wanting to take the pulse of the fine-art world in its present state should use the BBC’s watch-again facility to catch Stephen Sackur’s interview with Anish Kapoor in BBC World’s Hard Talk slot. Because in twenty-five delicious minutes this encounter definitively lays bare the vast con-trick which has turned contemporary fine art into a standing joke - at least for those who don’t have a professional or financial stake in it (and perhaps, in a secretly gloating way, for the profiteers as well).

Sackur may be good on the Middle East, but there’s no softer touch than a hard-news journalist who ventures into fashionable culture. And it was clear from the outset that this one had bought Kapoor’s expensive publicity, hook, line, and sinker: Sackur was a sucker. Running his hands through his perfect silver mane, and with a face positively bloated with self-love and condescension, Kapoor gave the impression of having just enough energy to open his sleepy eyes to answer the BBC man’s gently-lobbed questions. His manner was that of a genial professor leading neophyte students into a maze of his own making: patient, amused, and oh so superior. Sackur, meanwhile, was all wide-eyed eagerness: he doesn’t often get to talk to artists this rich and famous. Did Kapoor see any contradiction, he asked respectfully, between the demands of art and money? ‘We must be adult about money,’ Kapoor purred in reply, after some exquisitely-nuanced prevarications about the successful artist’s ambiguous plight in contemporary society. The well-heeled, feather-bedded Tracey Emin - bleating about our tax laws and running off to France - would doubtless have heartily concurred at this point. How can these people be so full of shit and not know it?

We glimpsed Kapoor’s gigantic oozing red-wax ‘sculpture’ portentously leaving blood on the walls at the Royal Academy; we got the obligatory hushed question about the relevance of the (in this context irrelevant) Holocaust. It emerged that he was actually - gasp! - glad that people should interpret his work in opposing ways. He showed a sublime ignorance of any other artistic world than the one he inhabits, suggesting that never before had spectators brought ideological baggage to their viewing of what they saw - no awareness that, at all times in European history, people have come to public art literally weighed down with ideology - religious, political, or whatever. Sackur’s awe-struck inquiry as to how he found the courage to face the terrifying prospect of a whole day of creative block got a beatifically cosy smile in reply.

But this being ‘Hard Talk’ - and Sackur having a macho image to maintain - we eventually got the killer-question he’d been carefully saving up. Not everybody was an admirer, he said through nervously clenched teeth: what was Kapoor’s comment on Brian Sewell’s typically forthright verdict that he was a total charlatan? Kapoor’s face became wreathed in smiles, and he gave the prettiest little laugh. ‘Poor Brian…’ No, really, coming from such a source, that verdict was a compliment!

If this nauseating own-goal was a perfect encapsulation of contemporary fine-art effrontery, it also served as a reminder that classical music’s commercialisation has a long way to go before it can begin to compete. There are of course plenty of parallels in the way the press and television collude in the big labels' promotional racket. When the boss of Deutsche Grammophon confesses that musical quality alone is not enough to ensure you a place on his roster, and that marketability demands quite other qualities, we know we’re in trouble. Would Nicola Benedetti be the ‘star’ she is without her unprecedented initial advance, her assumed Italian name, and her tumbling golden tresses? Nigel Kennedy’s knack for publicity perennially disguises the fact that as a musician he’s a one-trick pony. Yet both these people can play, and this points to classical music’s saving grace. You don’t need skill or talent to make a fortune as a fine-artist: all you need is nerve, and ars longa, vita brevis doesn’t come into it. But with music - even if you’re only a second-ranker like these two - if you don’t have the basics, you’re rumbled immediately.

(Photos: Reuters)
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