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MARKET FORCES: OR WHY DESPITE MY MONEY-GRABBING CHANGE IN CAREER TRAJECTORY IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO SELL OUT TO THE INSTITUTION OF ART BY "STEWART HOME"
In this text I will demonstrate why Matthew Collins' twelve year-old assessment of me quoted above is inaccurate. I will also explain how I plan to accommodate myself to the art market by proposing several new or at least re-envisaged works of mine that collectors and museums can commission from me; pieces that will definitively demonstrate that I am as cuddly and art world friendly as say Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer, or even Theaster Gates! This does however require some preamble.
The art market is in essence a market in luxury goods. It is an expression of the tastes of the bourgeoisie and is regulated by the institution of art. Anyone who believes art provides access to some higher realm of knowledge is at best deluded, and at worst a self- conscious apologist for the super-rich (and I am using this text to demonstrate how I might join the latter category). Because of the ways in which the art market works, with the opinions of 'critics' and 'connoisseurs' dominating the interpretation of this form of cultural production, faux-radical artists like to pretend to bite the hand that feeds them while actually licking it, and then rolling-over and playing dead when it comes to sales and critical interpretations. 'Radical' artists who wish to penetrate the art market must practically accommodate themselves to it, and generally do so from a position of fake 'double- consciousness' in which their pseudo-critiques of capitalism must remain completely abstract. These 'radical' artists must necessarily separate their 'theory' from their (art) practice.
I have been working on my own art world persona as "Stewart Home" for more than 30 years, and I'm constantly seeking new ways to transform it. As I've explained before "Stewart Home" is a construction. The specific quality of the cultural constructs connected to me (live performances, graphics, books, gallery shows, films, multiple identities, neoism etc.) is that rather than simply being arbitrary, they are self- contained signs and everything done with them affects what they and "I" as "Stewart Home" represent. In other words, although I appear to have been continually reforging the passage between theory and practice in my work for more than three decades, it should still be possible to neutralise the radical import of the totality of my work, and accommodate myself to the art market at this late date. To do so I need to reposition some of my earlier statements by explaining them as ironic (see for example the paragraph above this one, which I wrote about three minutes ago, 'earlier' is a relative concept). Beneath is another example of something I wrote in the past with an import that will be tactically altered by what I am doing right now with this current essay (and other work I am producing or at least threatening to produce). This is an essay I wrote about myself entitled Paint It Black: Stewart Home on Stewart Home (first published in Spanish by Espacio Tangente, Burgos, 2004):
To properly enter the art market it is necessary that I should project myself as a unique talent, and by ironically claiming I have no talent I have indeed positioned myself as operating at a complete remove from the vast bulk of artists who have somehow managed to convince themselves that they are possessed by 'genius'. Genius is, of course, a state of blandness in which 'the unique one' (the artist as egoist) has no opinion that is likely to offend their patrons within the cultural realm. To prove that I am every bit as bland as Gerhard Richter or Marina Abramović, I need first to disprove the utterly false idea that "Stewart Home" is in some way opinionated. That such misunderstandings about me have long circulated in the cultural realm can be illustrated by this extract from a 2010 essay Gone To Persia 3: Days Of Entropy (about the short lived 1990s cultural journal Entropy) by Ben Slater:
Issue Four featured my interview with Stewart Home… he had a tendency to inundate anyone interested with material (books, 'zines, CDs), far more than you could ever absorb, and he had a potentially brutal opinion about everything. Somehow we got along quite well. Stewart ... even stayed with me in Bristol a few times, and once we were taken out by a pair of idle-rich London-media types slumming it in the South-West ... She was good-looking, her man was self-loathing and loathsome. They got us drunk in a Clifton pub and took us back to their flat where the boyfriend promptly passed out. When the woman invited Stewart and me to join her in the basement, I knew it was time to leave.
In this instance it is probably best for me (as "Stewart Home") to simply denigrate Ben Slater's subjective claim that I am opinionated as an overly personalised response to my public persona, while encouraging speculation as to what I may or may not have done with the 'good-looking' woman in that Bristol basement. Likewise, my strategy of over-production when it comes to texts (as mentioned by Slater, and alongside whatever critical and journalistic commentary they generated) functions well enough (and I might as well claim 'was always and already intended') to bury anything I'd said that at a later date might prove inconvenient. And let's face it, anyone who expresses as many seemingly 'contradictory' opinions as I do must hold them just as lightly as that great bulk of art world careerists (hello Yu Hong and Rosson Crow), who avoid voicing negative views on anything in public for fear they might offend someone who can help them up the ladder of cultural success.
Moving on, the art market is in many ways similar to the market for high fashion, but working on longer time cycles. Cultural mavens get excited by fresh – supposedly new and exciting – art works, but pieces that are a few years old are of far less interest; although when certain works reach a point where they might be viewed as historic many of these are put in graveyards-cum-factories called museums (in the middle of the last century Duchamp called museums graveyards; today in a 'post- industrial' and post-Warholian pop art era they tend to have been re-'theorised' as factories). Of course in an age of instant access to cultural material through the internet, what is considered historic is both closer to us and further away than ever before. Any art that pre-dates the mass use of the internet, in other words anything that was made prior to this millennium, might now be considered historic. Since I have been involved in art making since the early 1980s, I have nearly two decades worth of 'historic' works to plunder and make new for the market.
Switching here briefly to a 'schizophrenic' third person narration, "Stewart Home" realised during his mid-career retrospective Again, A Time Machine at White Columns in New York (2011) and Space in London (2012) that he was failing to accommodate the art market. He had work for sale but it proved both too big and too ugly for those that wanted to buy something from this exhibition. Buyers of art usually want something pretty to hang on the wall (and easy to store if not on display). For example, the way "Stewart Home" was using and destroying books he'd written and had published in paperback format was not in line with art market shopping and acquisition patterns. I (the "anti-Stewart Home") will now quote "Stewart Home" on the matter at hand. After this 'historic' two year-old citation from "Stewart Home", he will go on to explain how he might correct such faults in order to facilitate the appearance (but not the reality) that he is 'selling out'.
With The One And The Many I'm foregrounding the role of the market in transforming everyday objects into works of art. Each of the 72 books that make up my sculpture has an individual cover price of £7.99 and thus a total retail value of £575.28. During the course of the Again, A Time Machine show, I'm offering The One And The Many for sale at the bargain basement tag of £383.52; in other words, with the standard shop discount of one third off their retail value. A purchaser of the work might destroy the sculpture by tearing open the plastic wrappings in which the books have been packaged and make an immediate profit by selling them individually for their retail value. On the other hand, a buyer may choose to speculate on the sculpture's ongoing value as a work of art and preserve it as it is, in the belief that in the long term this is the best way of realising the greatest profit from the purchase; or, even, simply because they like it as an aesthetic object. As an artwork The One And The Many is unique, and I will not reassemble the piece unless someone both buys it and breaks it up with the aim of realising an instant profit (I would ask anyone who did buy the work to inform me of this should they do so).
Over the past few years I have further explored other possibilities for the aesthetic transformation of my book Down and Out In Shoreditch and Hoxton by shredding copies of this novel. The various shredders I have used to do this are not designed for continuous shredding and so there is always a possibility the machine will break down before I finish shredding my book. One of the resulting sculptures is on display in Again, A Time Machine as Shredded Book and offered for sale in pieces inside a shredding machine for £1000. Shredded Book exists as a series of ten unique works numbered one to ten (with two artist's proofs), all comprising a copy of Down and Out In Shoreditch and Hoxton shredded and left inside a shredding machine. No two copies of Down and Out In Shoreditch and Hoxton will shred in exactly the same way, and therefore there will be subtle differences between each piece in the Shredded Book series (NB it is not an edition). Two different videos of me shredding copies of Down and Out In Shoreditch and Hoxton can be viewed on my YouTube channel – one shows me shredding in a domestic space, and the other engaging in destruction/creation as a performance piece in a gallery.
And just in case you're interested, The One And The Many and Shredded Book were first shown in Misty Boundaries Fades and Dissolves. This was a group show featuring Stewart Home, Linder, Clunie Reid, James Richards, Eva Weinmeyr, and George Barber, curated by Daniella Saul. 25 February-28 March 2010 at FormContent, 51-63 Ridley Road, London E8 2NP.
While my acts of book destruction and transformation were in every way perfect (aside from the fact that the art market failed to buy the resultant product), what I now realise I also should have done was to take a selection of printed pages from my novel Down and Out In Shoreditch and Hoxton and neatly cut each page into four equal pieces. I would have then mounted new pages made up of four quarter pieces cut from different parts of my book, and framed the resultant work. This would have created a series of works I might have entitled Additions (invoking the cut-up literature of William Burroughs and the adding machine from which his family made its fortune).
Such fabrications fit much better with the bottom end of the art market than what I offered for sale during Again, A Time Machine (since they would be pretty and easy to store or hang on a wall), and I might yet realise them rather than leaving them as the mere proposal they are here. After all the art market likes something concrete, luxury objects as opposed to 'abstract' 'ideas'. And, of course, even high profile artists depend for much of their income on the sales of lesser works – say spot or spin 'paintings' – rather than their more attention-grabbing throughput (such as dead sharks). And when I say 'throughput', I mean 'throughput', to use the term 'output' about the work of someone who uses dead sharks in their 'art' would be overly complimentary.
Something else I might potentially sell is what has proved to date to be the most concrete legacy of the Art Strike (1990-1993), my Art Strike Bed (1993-2014). Before I talk about my bed, I must first address the Art Strike. There are many ways in which it's possible to deal with the Art Strike. For instance, it's been explained as a conceptual art piece consisting of the propaganda calling on cultural workers to stop making or discussing their work from 1 January 1990 to 1 January 1993, along with the various responses with which this demand has been met. Early in 1989, a year before the Art Strike began, I wrote that 'the time for theorising the Art Strike will be after it has taken place'. This statement was one of a number grouped under the heading 'No Theoretical Summing Up'. Like the Art Strike, at first glance these words appear to be little more than a flat refusal to engage in a discourse that might be of value to the culture industry. However, both this statement, and the Art Strike in general, work on more than one level. In the case of the fourteen words I've chosen to cite, taken in context, they also point towards a rather unoriginal view of history as something created after the fact by academics sitting amongst dusty piles of books, rather than by the Napoleons and Bismarcks who are familiar to us from dimly remembered school lessons.
I first publicly exhibited the Art Strike Bed in a show entitled Imprint 93 at City Racing, (London, June-July 1995). Matthew Higgs was the curator, and I also had some nice encounters with Paul Noble as the exhibition was put together. Since I didn't want the bed I used returned to me (it was rather manky and I had a better bed that I used at home), Paul Noble took it as he'd been kipping on the floor.
The next time I showed the Art Strike Bed was as part of the group show Yerself Is Steam, which was put on in a temporary gallery in London's Charlotte Street during July and August 1996. This exhibition included people like Tracey Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood and Jake and Dinos Chapman, as well as me. Time Out in their review didn't know whether my Art Strike Bed was intended as 'a monument to slackerdom or a treatise on Marxist aesthetics ... maybe that's the point.' Some time ago, I wrote that:
Tracey Emin might have waited a few years, but her attempt at recuperating this piece was more brutal. I believe that there can be no authenticity under capitalism, so the Art Strike Bed was an attempt at radical inauthenticity. Emin, by way of contrast, used her 1998 work My Bed, which as an object looked remarkably similar to my Art Strike Bed, as a vehicle for processing trauma – and thus attempted to present her work as something authentic, which was clearly intended to subvert and bury the critique I'd been making with my earlier piece. I have used a variety of beds as the Art Strike Bed – and I've never used the actual bed I slept on during the Art Strike 1990-1993.
Now, of course, I need to make it plain that my claims about Emin recuperating my Art Strike Bed were ironic, since I didn't want to sound like an artist suffering from a case of sour grapes by saying she'd plagiarised it. And in doing this I don't necessarily have to deny that I was self-consciously invoking an entire history of beds in art, from Édouard Manet's Olympia (1863, in which the central subject is lying on a bed) to Robert Rauschenberg's Bed (1955) to Raphael Montañez Ortiz's destruction of beds and mattresses under the aegis of Destruction In Art during the 1960s. From Manet to Ortiz there is clearly a process of literalisation going on, but through to Rauschenberg's Bed this art history is about representations of beds hung on walls, even if Rauschenberg uses unconventional materials (oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet, on wood supports) he does not present a literal bed. Ortiz did make the move to literalisation but still felt compelled to destroy the objects he transformed into art by rendering them useless from the point of view of ordinary domestic use.
Other works that literally deployed beds – or rather just a mattress in the case of The Maybe by Cornelia Parker (first shown in September 1995 at The Serpentine Gallery) – used them only as a prop on which to place a living human being. In Parker's case this was the actress Tilda Swinton who slept on a mattress placed not on a bed base but inside a vitrine, and this movie star probably received more media coverage for The Maybe than the artist who conceived the 'work'. Although Parker's was made a couple of months after I'd first exhibited my Art Strike Bed, I see her as riffing on what John Lennon and Yoko Ono did with their Bed-Ins For Peace (1969), rather than my work. My innovation was to simply present a bed that might still be slept in (and in fact was used in this way by Paul Noble after my first public exhibition of it) with a theoretical text in a gallery situation and with no unnecessary additions, such as an artistic use of paint or similar materials, a celebrity, or other items that would not be found in an ordinary bedroom. This, then, is what Emin copied, even if she presented 'her' bed as 'unmade' and dropped the theoretical dimension (since she was congenitally incapable of forging a passage between theory and practice, let alone creating the illusion of continually reforging this passage as I did).
Now I've positioned myself as having originated the Bed work that Emin plundered, I need to further valorise it for the niche market of elite art patrons and collectors. My proposal with regard to this is a series of monumental Art Strike Bed sculptures. There could be several relatively conventional bronze pieces that might be copies of actual beds but with massively inflated dimensions (although obviously always different beds and enlarged at different scales) set in specially designed atria. In at least some instances whole buildings should be designed around an atrium containing a scaled-up version of one of my bronze beds. In other instances bridges in the form of massive Art Strike Beds should be constructed over rivers running through major cities such as the Thames in London and the Hudson River in New York. Each sculpture in the series (be it bronze or steel bridge) would be so reassuringly expensive that the art market would necessarily take this work seriously (just as it has Yoko Ono's awful bronze recastings of her earlier and more ephemeral works). This process will be kick-started by some rough photomontages (mostly made by people other than myself because they are so excited by my 'big' ideas) showing how the Art Strike Bed might be valorised in this way. Later this process can be moved on to detailed and accurate architectural rendering along the same lines (drawn up by 'real' architects); before billionaires or high ranking functionaries from the institution of art commission the final realisation of these plans in bricks and mortar, bronze and steel!
Taking a step back, the show this text comprises a part of (The Age of Anti-Ageing, The Function Room, London October/November 2014) also demonstrates my willingness to embrace the art market. Aside from this text, a series of eight prints with one additional panel of text are offered for sale unframed in an edition of eight for £5,000. As the text panel explains:
In 2004 Stewart Home was photographed by Chris Dorley Brown imitating poses from photographs in his mother's 1966 modelling portfolio. More recently, after noticing books with titles such as The Green Pharmacy: Anti-Ageing Prescriptions and The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible lying around in the flats of friends, Stewart Home and Chris Dorley Brown decided to repose their 2004 restaged photographs a decade on. The photographs from 2004 and 2014 were then morphed together. Rationally the result should have been Stewart Home as he would have looked in 2009, but instead of this the morphs conjure up a timeless Stewart Home. Anti-ageing books and products have become big business among the baby boomer generation, but photographic manipulation makes them superfluous. In a culture obsessed with the aesthetic rather than the fitness results of exercise, anti-ageing is more effectively achieved via digital manipulation than beauty products!
To conclude, we all reproduce our own alienation under capitalism, and so there is no such thing as selling out to the institution of art; in this world we are all always and already 'prostitutes' (a metaphor much used by Marx). There will be no supersession of art, rather art as a discourse and way of organising knowledge will disappear when the revolutionary activity of the proletariat replaces capitalism with communudist ecstasy and abolishes class society. The return of communism at a higher level is not only a matter of reclaiming the anti-economic organisational practices of primitive wo/man, but also necessarily entails a return to the modes of consciousness that accompanied the unalienated social existence of 'primitive' peoples. In other words, art will disappear and we shall all become shamen! But in the meantime I need rich art collectors to spend as much money as possible on my works! Finally, when he reads this I trust art critic Matthew Collins will feel thoroughly ashamed of himself for suggesting my pronouncements are deeply ironic and that I 'don't count as a contemporary artist' because I don't focus enough on object production! If you ask me Collins must have been high on drugs to make such warped observations ...
“Stewart Home”, October 2014, London.
The Age of Anti-Ageing Stewart Home exhibition
Again, A Time Machine Stewart Home mid-career retrospective
Humanity In Ruins 1988 Stewart Home solo show in London
Cover of Market Forces pamphlet published by Vargas Organisation (London 2014) on the occasion and as part of the exhibition The Age Of Anti-Ageing by Stewart Home and Chris Dorley Brown at The Function Room (London October/November 2014). As well as the essay on this page the pamphlet contains additional texts by Andrew Scott Bolton and Stewart Home. ISBN 9780956194732.
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