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    The Roving Eye
by Anthony Haden Guest
 
 
Marcus Harvey
Myra
1995
 
Chris Ofili
The Holy Virgin Mary
1996
 
Welcome to the Roving Eye, Artnet's newest column. In however scattershot a fashion, we'll be wandering over the art world as well as topics of interest to it -- and that is a shadow which covers a lot of grass. The web being a fluid medium, the Eye encourages correspondence, however outspoken, though preferably including information unknown to us. Email addressed to mail@therovingeye.com will reach us handily. Incidentally, the current issue of feedmag.com also takes the art world as its subject. That publication is burdened with a lengthy piece by myself -- which goes up this Friday -- but otherwise seems excellent. By the way, our Roving Eye graphic is by the artist Cecily Brown. Yes, a fellow Brit. Conspiracy theorists can make of that what they wish.

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When "Sensation," the deliberately in-your-face exhibition of Young British Artists, opened at London's Royal Academy in 1997, the outrage button was pushed hardest by Marcus Harvey's Myra, a huge portrait of a notorious child murderer made with brushstrokes that resemble tiny handprints.

Now that the show is about to open at the Brooklyn Museum -- partly under the aegis of David Bowie and Charles Saatchi -- religion seems to have become the button-pusher. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has threatened to pull city funding for the museum if it shows African-English artist Chris Ofili's painting, Holy Virgin Mary. Ofili, the most recent winner of Britain's esteemed art prize, the Turner, uses chunks of elephant dung in his work.

"I don't want to fund art that offends a large part of the population," Giuliani said. No doubt the offending element in Holy Virgin Mary -- if it's not the clod of dung -- is the numerous tiny heinies dotted across Mary's visage. As we go to press, trouble-courting Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman is incommunicado. "Sensation" includes work by 40 artists and goes on view Oct. 2, 1999-Jan 9, 2000.

     
 
Charlie Finch prepares to deliver a critique
 
Coagula's May 1997 issue
 
*       *      *
For some, it will be like hearing that Saddam Hussein is stepping down or that Hannibal Lecter has become a vegan. After seven years of wielding her cleaver, Janet Preston is leaving Coagula!

Coagula is the scabrous art-world half-tab -- sometimes venomously funny, sometimes just venomous, sometimes prone to giddy bouts of fandom -- that is produced in Los Angeles but floats around the art world at large. It's read only by those who enjoy seeing art as the target of lowly gossip, which means it has a pretty broad reader base. "Janet Preston," the mag's New York voice, actually inhabits the sumo-wrestler-styled shape of Charlie Finch. Why is he leaving?

"It's been seven years. I think seven years is sufficient."

The mag began in '92 at the bottom of the slump.

"Totally. That was one of the reasons for its success."

Now that there's money around again, how have things changed?

"The problem is that when Artforum is selling 100 pages of ads per issue, people don't care about critiques. So why do it?"

What was your biggest hit?

"Turning Larry Gagosian into a major star was, I think, our biggest accomplishment."

It was you who did that?

Finch backpedaled, fractionally.

"The thing about the '90s was, for the first time ever, the art dealers were the stars."

What were your personal low points over the last seven years?

A manic chuckle.

"The low point was when Peter Plagens compared me in a book to Victor Buono. Remember? The portly character actor in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Great actor, though."

Poor Coagula. It'll be hard to fill Janet's stilettos.

9/22/99

ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST is a writer, reporter and cartoonist. He is currently at work on Famous: Some Journeys through Celebrity Worlds (William Morrow).
 
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