LONDON SURREALIST GROUP
Surrealism has a straightforward attitude to
so-called “Britart”, the fashionable artistic trend that Julian
Stallabrass has so aptly dubbed "high art lite", it is an
attitude of absolute and undisguised contempt. The prime movers
of "high art lite" - whether as Tory millionaires, dealers
masquerading as collectors, minor celebrities, or exploitative
proprietors of small businesses - have positioned themselves
in opposition to the Surrealist project of liberating humanity
and the human imagination. They stand squarely among our enemies.
The Stuckists share our opposition to this trend within the
art world; but we do not share the more general Stuckist hostility
to conceptual art. Conceptual art is a strategy that significantly
predates the crystallisation of "high art lite", and is far
from exhausted. In fact, we do not consider the Stuckists
as allies or fellow-travellers in any sense. The reason for
this is plain, Stuckism is the bastard child of the conservative
art establishment. The Stuckists are incapable of presenting
any genuine alternative to the shallow mediocrity of the Hirsts
and Emins; nor to the wheeler-dealering masquerading as patronage
of Saatchi and his kind. They are merely another gang of artists
competing for a share of the commercial cake. The self-proclaimed
status of Stuckism as an "art movement" gives the game away;
nothing but empty posturing with a paintbrush.
The Stuckists fetishise the act of painting
and enshrine the product as if it is a sacred idol. The Stuckist
painting has a tin halo, a smugly self-righteous expression,
and a fat belly filled with self-absorption. It is a childish
kicking against modernity that fails, pathetically, to challenge
the underlying realities of capitalism, of the capitalist
art market, of material, psychological, psychic and spiritual
repression. Vague notions of "spirituality", and some feeble
dabbling on the tamer edges of the occult, are not enough.
The rebel image of Stuckism is no more than
a conjuring trick, an affair of smoke and mirages, an outright
fake. Its thin radical gloss is created by expressing alienation
alongside its innate conservatism, a confused and confusing
stance that shares far more with Céline’s dismal path towards
eventual fascism than with the revolutionary intransigence
of Surrealism. Even at its occasional best, Stuckism can only
be the expression of alienation, and a transmission belt for
despair and defeat that serves to defuse the spirit of revolt.
The cynicism and misanthropy so rife among the Stuckists are
a form of abstention from any truly radical engagement with
bourgeois society. The limits of their apolitical "rebellion"
are so soon encountered that one can only conclude that it
is no rebellion at all.
Stuckism remains the mirror image of "high art
lite". The relationship between the two tendencies is a symbiotic
one. At the same time as the Stuckists condemn Tracey Emin,
they promote their link with her, attempting to ride her coat-tails
to art world success. But even this association is largely
illusory, given that it merely consists of a long-dead relationship.
Britart, of course, was never radical, nor were its attempts
at shock-tactics more than feeble. In fact, the “great moment”
of Britart was the Sensation exhibition, held at the Royal
Academy. It is worth remembering that William Blake said of
that establishment that it consisted of “men hired to depress
art”, and nothing about it has changed in two hundred years.
To allow oneself to be drawn into the Royal Academy is to
refute all radical pretensions, to accept the status quo in
a spirit of cynical self-advancement, exactly as the Britart
pack have done. Do the Stuckists oppose this? Not at all.
On the contrary, one of the founders of the movement, Charles
Thomson, is very proud of having shown at the Academy. His
art is actually quite typical of the dreary fare served up
at the Summer Show.
If, for this moment, we take the Stuckists
seriously, it is not because they represent a threat or a
real critique, but rather because they reveal themselves as
a symptom. Their only virtue would seem to be that they have
driven Nicholas Serota, the curiously desiccated director
of the Tate, to absolute fury. This, at any rate, is praiseworthy
and should immediately be made a national sport. But, ultimately,
the Stuckists’ complaint against the art world is not its
monumental dishonesty, its reduction of art to a commodity,
and certainly not its vacuous and slavish acceptance of capitalism
and the status quo. They only express an envy that would evaporate
if Saatchi bought their work. So that it is not the case that
Britart and Stuckism are genuinely opposites pitted one against
the other, they simply pose the question: Coke or Pepsi?
For Surrealism, art has always been one means
among many, never an end in itself. The great ambition of
Surrealism, the transformation of life itself, could never
be contained within art. It is from a very different terrain
that we view this squabble. Stuckism, on the other hand, remains
a parasite on the back of a more successful "art movement",
sucking its blood for all it is worth. As such, it will no
doubt accompany its host to the same historical dustbin.
London Surrealist Group Communiqués issued
by the London Surrealist Group may be freely published so
long as they are properly credited to the Group. We would
also appreciate notification of where and when any Communiqués
have been reproduced.
Website www.londonsurrealistgroup.co.uk [web