Here's a piece of very bald propaganda from the BBC, dated February 20, 2009. In an article entitled “Back to the Futurists”,1 the arts correspondent Laurence Pollard tries to tie the Stuckists to the Futurists. The first sentence of the article is
That sentence is bolded in the article. We are not in the presence of a subtle propagandist here. He makes no attempt to hide his method or cloak the psychology. He assumes his reader is naïve. He assumes that this reader can be made to mistrust or disdain all art movements by leading with an art movement that contemns women and glorifies war. Very soon after this, he tells us that Futurism paved the way for “more recent cultural agitators like the Stuckists.”
The naïve reader is expected to make the jump here: the Futurists were shallow agitators with horrible aims, so the Stuckists probably are, too.
The primary problem with all this is that it turns the truth on its head. It turns art history on its head. In the current squabble, it is not the Stuckists who are the children of the Futurists, it is the post-postmodernists (or whatever they are calling themselves this week). The exhibitors, judges, curators, critics, and other promoters of the Turner Prize are direct descendants of Futurism, as are all the artists promoted by top galleries like Saatchi, Gagosian, Pace-Wildenstein, etc.
The secondary problem is that Pollard knows this. If he is writing as an arts correspondent for the BBC, he must know enough recent art history to know the lines of descent in the 20th century. The avant garde has dumped the anti-feminist pro-war parts of Futurism, but the anti-art, anti-museum, anti-high-culture part of the Futurist manifesto is the central pillar of contemporary art. That is why the Turner Prize artists and jurors are all still trying to find the least artistic thing they can to put in the museum. This undercuts the museum, the art, the artist, and the culture of beauty and elevation all at the same time. It undercuts “the aristocracy”, if the aristocracy is understood to be rich people trying to buy beautiful things. The current attitude toward art history is precisely what the Futurist attitude toward art history was in 1909: a broad and crushing contempt. Current artists and critics can misrepresent, slander, and vilify art history because it means absolutely nothing to them. It is something to be knocked down, and only that.
Conversely, the Stuckists are defenders of the old, pre-Futurist, art. They are not defenders of aristocracy, by any definition, but they are defenders of painting, sculpture, drawing, representation, and figuration. They have attacked Duchamp by name, and Duchamp is famous, if not as a Futurist, then as a Dadaist. A Dadaist is just a subtle variation of a Futurist. A Dadaist may not be pro-war or anti-woman, but a Dadaist was and is at least as anti-art and anti-museum as a Futurist. Duchamp put a urinal in a museum show in 1917, and he did it, by his own admission, to undercut the whole idea of putting beautiful things in beautiful buildings. The Turner Prize is built around this idea. The Turner Prize IS Futurism and Dadaism in the 21st century.
So when the Stuckists march outside the Tate Britain with their signs, they are marching against Futurism, not for it. It is the artists and their promoters inside the building who are the descendants of Futurism. It is the artists exhibiting rooms of blinking lights and tinkertoys and cans of excrement that are the Futurists of the moment, unctuously trying to sell us anti-art as some form of squishy and undefined progressivism. It is these artists, hiding behind politics and theory, who are continuing to destroy an entire field of enterprise. They claim that this destruction is a sort of ongoing Bastille Day, by which aristocracy is defeated once again by egalité, but the truth is much darker—this truth being that contemporary art is nothing more than self-promotion by the vulgar and talentless, and market promotion by those with no scruples and no shame.
More than that, the contemporary art market is a government subsidized racket, underwritten undemocratically by tax dollars and perpetuated by state-sponsored propaganda. This article by Mr. Pollard is just one sample among many decades of bald, transparent, and hamhanded agitprop. Notice that Mr. Pollard is not writing as a representative of a gallery or any other private interest. No, he is writing as a BBC correspondent. The BBC is state-sponsored, which makes his article state-sponsored propaganda for a private market. He has turned the truth on its head for some hidden interest, probably a gallery. With some digging, we could probably find a Saatchi or Serota behind this article.
Postscript: on May 5, 2009, I filed a formal complaint with the BBC, including this article as my argument. The BBC is not authorized to tell lies or to rewrite art history. They are forbidden from it, in fact, in their charter. A news agency willfully spreading false information is not only beneath contempt, it is breaking the law.
Furthermore, after getting nothing back from the BBC but a form letter stating that the author had been apprised of my complaint, in July 2009 I contacted a member of Parliament, representing West London, making the same complaint to him. I then wrote up this petition, which I intend to present to both houses of Parliament, asking for an investigation of the arts section of the BBC, and improper influence there. If you are a citizen of the UK and would like to sign this petition, so that I can present it, please contact me immediately.
To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled:
The Humble Petition of __________, sheweth that the Arts Section of the BBC has abused it chartered powers in publishing false information, known by the authors and publishers to be false, on multiple occasions. On one recent occasion, as example, the author Laurence Pollard published on February 20, 2009, an article of the title "Back to the Futurists," in which he claimed that a group opposing the Turner Prize was connected historically to the Futurists. This author should know and is assumed to know that this is false. The editors of the arts section at the BBC should also know this is false, since the Futurists are among the most famous groups of 20th century artists. It is historical fact, commonly known, that the Turner Prize itself is descended from Futurism, in direct line. So that this article is turning the truth on its head in order to promote a hidden agenda. That agenda is the covert promotion of current private interests in the art market. In other words, such articles are a strong indication that private interests have bought influence in the arts section of the BBC, through corrupt authors like this, in order to purposely misinform the public about art and art history. You can read more about this particular article here:
Other investigation of arts section corruption at the BBC has been done by David Lee, whose work can be found here,
Wherefore your Petitioner prays that your honourable House does open an investigation of the arts section of the BBC, and improper influence there. This Petitioner reminds the House that the Turner Prize and those who promote it have already been found by the government to be engaging in unethical practices. In July of 2006 the Charity Commission found that Nicolas Serota and others connected to the Turner Prize had broken Charity Law by buying works (with public funds) from their own trustees. Mr. Serota came near to losing his job over this, as you will remember, and many were surprised to find no one indicted for breaking criminal law in this scandal.
This Petitioner suspects it would be quite easy to show that the BBC arts section has been infiltrated by private interests, and that authors such as Laurence Pollard are being prompted and paid by promoters of the Turner Prize and/or by private London galleries such as Saatchi. This is of public concern and the concern of Parliament for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is contrary to the charter of the BBC to be publishing false information, especially false information to benefit a private interest.
A British friend, after reading this, feared I might be opening myself up to a libel suit by the BBC, Pollard, or Saatchi, for going public with such an accusation. This was my email reply to him:
Petitioning is not "going public", is it? As I understand it, a petition is put in a bag on the back of a chair, not sent directly to the Sunday Times. I suspect there is something to prevent libel lawsuits against petitioners, otherwise no citizen could ever request an investigation of anything without fear of lawsuit. Direct representation would be out the window immediately, as would the last vestige of democracy or whatever it is we are supposed to have in the US and UK. This petition is a request for investigation of fact, not a statement of fact. I am certain that no one has been sued for sending his representative a letter in the US, complaining of someone's malfeasance, even in the case that complaint is false. Such correspondence may even be privileged. As I said, I suspect that petitioning is privileged like that. You should be able to complain of anything to your representative, even if it turns out to be unfounded. In such a case, you are not required to prove your suspicion. It is the asked-for investigation that will prove or disprove your suspicion.
Beyond that, you can't really believe this article I reference is just an accident or mistake. This author is the one opening himself to libel, not me, since he is slandering the Stuckists with false information. I would love to go to court to prove his reading of history is false, since that would be fantastically easy to do. Why should he be able to make a scurrilous claim like this with no proof, and against all historical fact? Is libel protected so long as it is under a major masthead and couched in cloudy language? Is libel protected speech, as long as one can write it off as innuendo? As for my claim that he was hired or prompted by the art market, that would be harder to prove, yes, which is why I am asking Parliament to do an investigation. If I could prove it now, I wouldn't need the help of Parliament or anyone else. That is also why I use words like "suspect." I "suspect" an investigation would turn up improprieties, and that is what I say. In the US, opinion and suspicion is protected speech. I am free to suspect anything I like, and I think you are, too, in the UK.
There are undoubtedly bigger crimes being done by the art market, and by writers at the BBC. This is just one instance of a false article being published, known by both writer and publisher to be false. And here is zero chance that either House will act on my petition. But I am going forward with it, one way or the other. It may be the first in a line of petitions I make to Parliament. It is my first volley in a long battle, my first shout out to UK legislators. But it may be that it will prompt someone somewhere to do something they weren't going to do, to look at something they hadn't looked at before, to see a connection they hadn't seen before. Ten years down the line, with a bag full of similar petitions from me, Parliament may decide to act on some issue more important than this one, but related. In that case, the argument I am building now will not have been in vain.
Postscript number 2: After returning today (July 29, 2009) to the BBC article in question, I realized it had been changed since I filed my complaint with the BBC. The author has watered the article down, and added positive nods to the Stuckists, perhaps in answer to my paper. But this only makes the article contradictory, confused, and pointless. For example, the opening bolded sentence has not changed, and this sentence is a clear indictment of the Futurists. But the final sentence is now, "But the manifestoes were great." What? Contempt for women and the glorification of war is great? The author's final paragraphs no longer support his opening thesis. Why? Because he is now trying to make it look like he is not belittling all manifestoes. He has also added an audio link to Charles Thomson reading the Stuckist Manifesto and a picture of one of Thomson's paintings. So the article is nothing but a garbled mess now, with no thesis and no point, and Pollard apparently changed it to cover his tracks. He got caught by me and decided to hide behind this revision. I will be able to prove that in greater detail once this article goes into the archives (the Wayback Machine), but it is too soon for that. They don't archive until at least six months have passed. I will get back to you. I should have taken a screenshot, but I didn't think of it. If anyone out there has a screenshot of that BBC article from February, let me know.
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