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August 13 2012

Olympic art: Michael Landy

As part of our series in which artists celebrate the Games, Michael Landy reflects on the mishap with his terrier that stopped him from witnessing Team GB gold





June 12 2012

Fantasy art school: artists reveal their dream teachers

As London's Hayward Gallery launches its month-long alternative art college, Wide Open School, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and others tell us who their dream teachers would be. Who would you like to be taught by?

This month, more than 100 artists from 40 countries are heading to London's Southbank to host workshops as part of the Hayward's alternative college of art, Wide Open School. Subjects in the timetable range from dining and singing sessions and sushi-making performance art classes to the Sundown Schoolhouse of Queer Home Economics, plus explorations of time and space, forensics and Freddie Mercury.

As the college swings open its doors, we ask a selection of artists who their dream teachers would be.

Tracey Emin

I would like to have been taught by Simone Weil, Daphne du Maurier and Louise Bourgeois. I think it would have made a wonderful trio of art, literature and philosophy – at school, that is all I needed to be taught.

Tracey Emin will be in conversation with Jeanette Winterson on 26 June.

Michael Landy

I was never taught cricket at school and I've never played it, but I do listen to it on the radio. So I would nominate Geoffrey Boycott, ex-Yorkshire and England cricketer, to teach me the basics about batting and bowling. He would tell me to keep my eye on the ball, and to move either forwards or backwards depending on where the ball pitched, and to keep my head still. We would discuss the finer points of the "corridor of uncertainty" and when I played a bad shot, he would tell me that his mum could have done better than me.

Michael Landy is running a workshop on destruction

Bob and Roberta Smith

I wish I'd been taught by Theodor W Adorno and Walter Benjamin, and at primary school by Michael Rosen, who could have warned me about the dangers of too much entertainment on the 1970s TV programme Play Away.

Bob and Roberta Smith is creating a symphony for the public realm.

Marlene Dumas

Joseph Beuys, because of his postcards with Klaus Staeck and his smile!

An evening with Marlene Dumas takes place on 5 July.

Antony Gormley

David Bohm, the inspirational physicist who developed the implications of Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity. He could have involved me in the participatory activity of holomovement in his understanding of the implicate order of phenomena.

Antony Gormley will be talking to critic and writer Michael Newman about time in art.

Jane and Louise Wilson

We have a great admiration for the teaching profession: it would be difficult to find any other profession with as many valuable, dedicated and creative thinkers who, despite the lack of government support, continue to brilliantly inspire future generations. We attended the same comprehensive school in the 1980s and although they no longer exist any more, reflecting back to that time we would find it really hard to agree upon only one artist we would have both liked to have been taught by. Essentially, there are too many. It would have been fascinating to attend a talk by Professor Mary E King about her book The Power of Nonviolent Action (1988). The book is timely on so many levels despite being written before the collapse of the former Soviet Union. It describes the successful use of non-violent strategies to bring about political change, from the pro-democracy movements in the former Soviet Union to the present-day pro-democracy movements in the Middle East.

Jane and Louise Wilson will be in conversation with Caroline Wilkinson on 13 June.

Thomas Hirschhorn

Joseph Beuys, because he accepted everybody in his class – and would accept me. And because he asserted that every human being is an artist, because he included everyone in his work, because he never "made school" in the sense of creating followers, because his teaching was part of his artistic mission, because of his decisions about his materials, because of his work in public space, because he understood art as something which needs to confront social, economical and political issues. And because he makes me love art.

Thomas Hirschhorn is running a class called Energy: Yes! Quality: No! on 3 July.

Mark Wallinger

Great teachers are those that have such a revelatory impact on their students that it might shape their future destiny. Keats's sonnet, On first looking into Chapman's Homer, expresses his passion for poetry by using imagery of exploration and discovery, which never fails to thrill me. And how exciting would it have been to witness Filippo Brunelleschi demonstrating linear perspective for the first time in his baptistry in Florence. But above all, I wish I could resurrect my junior school teacher Mr Holland, even if he might recognise his idea for parent's open day in my upcoming show at Baltic in Gateshead

Martin Creed

I don't believe in teaching. I think people learn things. Nobody teaches them.

Who is your dream teacher?

Tell us by posting a comment below


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January 28 2012

Feelgood art: the pick-me-up to get us through an age of anxiety

British artists used to delight in shocking audiences, but now many are involved in projects intended to cheer people up

Young British artists once rocked the world with a volley of pickled animal cadavers, unmade beds and flicking light switches. But now, against the backdrop of a grim economic climate, some of the movement's biggest stars appear to be concentrating on cheering us all up.

Feelgood artwork is everywhere, from the life-affirming London Underground project of Michael Landy, who has invited commuters to log incidents of kindness, to the uplifting public art commissioned for the top of bus shelters to herald the Olympics.

"There is a second world war kind of thing going on about 'keeping the home fires burning' at the moment; a bit of 'keep calm and carry on' art, if you like," said the Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller this weekend as he prepared for the opening of his retrospective show, Joy in People, on London's South Bank next month. However, his own work, as he explains, is not intended as a simple pick-me-up.

"The title of my show is apparently positive, but the show itself isn't all positive. There is anger and there is frustration too," he said.

Other leading artists, such as Martin Creed and Tracey Emin, who established their careers with work on challenging themes, are now producing art that urges their public to think positive thoughts. "Don't Worry", reads Creed's neon work, while several of Emin's recent neon signs are equally direct, reading "Trust Me" and "I Keep Believing in You". The Turner prize-nominated artist Mark Titchner is one of those to contribute to Bus Tops, a Cultural Olympiad project which has seen inspirational digital commands such as "Act or be Acted Upon" and "If you don't like your life, you can change it" adorning London bus shelters.

Much of this work is tongue-in-cheek, or at least invites a few questions, but the overall effect is to emphasise the better things about human existence.

"When times are difficult, values are going to be questioned," said Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery. "You look again at what's important and at what's less important in life. It is usually a time when culture and art can play an important part, whereas in a boom period there is too much focus on the hype around the boom and on all the alluring baubles it holds out before us."

Rugoff, who is staging the Deller show and an exhibition of the wry sketches of David Shrigley, is clear that art should not be regarded as "a nice sedative we can take together … What it can do, though, is function as a catalyst and bring people together. Art can connect them in new ways."

On Tuesday, a group of artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare and Jonathan Yeo are to launch a more practical response to the financial slump. The group are staging a major exhibition in London this spring that will raise money for the homelessness charity Crisis. "Art reflects on situations in ways that cold hard facts can't," said Wearing, who won the Turner prize in 1997. "It tries to make sense of the world subjectively, whereas facts tend to ignore our subjectivity."

Her partner is Landy, and she explains that the idea behind his Acts of Kindness on the London Underground came to him before the financial crisis took hold. "For me it was powerful that an artist was working with kindness, something that we easily overlook," she said this weekend. "It actually inspired some works of mine, including the one for the Crisis Commission, where I wanted to look at people who have overcome difficulties in life and have become heroes."

But on the weekend when film-maker Danny Boyle, director of the Olympics opening ceremony, announced his Isle of Wonders theme, Deller for one is decidedly grumpy about the pressure to be jolly in preparation for the summer. "The Olympics, of course, is something that will attempt to brainwash artists into expressing positive things," he said. "Some will. But I am the kind of person who will try and do the opposite. I find these big cultural and sporting events unbearable."

In 2009 Deller invited London Underground staff on the Piccadilly Line to help him produce a booklet of quotes called What is the City But People. The booklet aimed "to generate a more positive atmosphere during peak times", but his best known work also tackles the violent 1984 confrontations between striking miners and police and the Iraq war. His recent work What It Is, the remains of a car destroyed at Al-Mutanabbi book market in Baghdad, will be in the new exhibition.

"Historically, art began by giving people what they needed, as it was tied up with religion. Now it is much more fragmented and it can be about how miserable and rotten things are," he said. His own collaborative work with the public is born of the fact that he is not traditionally trained, Deller suggests, as much as it is due to his belief and interest in people.

"At its simplest, I would say art is another way of looking at life, or perhaps another way of dealing with it."

Deller points out that BritArt started under a Conservative government "in difficult times" and was later "appropriated by the Blair regime".

"At that point it did all become a bit celebratory," he said.

For several young artists the benevolent act of making communal art has become part of the reason for doing it. Max Dovey, 23, is one of the artists featured in the 2012 Catlin guide to the 40 most promising art school graduates. "Apart from one or two notable exceptions, the response by new artists to the recession hasn't been as political or aggressive as one might have expected," said Justin Hammond, who wrote the guide. "Looking at the selected artists, there's a lot of humour running through the work though, and Max Dovey's work is very much about encouraging communication and embracing the idea of community."

"The Emotional Stock Market, which was the piece I did last year, was about trading well-being as a commodity like shares," said Dovey, who is from Bristol and lives and works in south London. "There was a lot of political talk about moving away from gross domestic product to valuing how people were feeling, and my piece was a satire or a comment on that. We tracked the levels of well-being by looking at status updates on Facebook and at Twitter to see how many were happy or sad, and then we traded them in live performance."

Dovey argues that there is a new growth of "careful art" among contemporaries who are making community projects. "Artists don't want to shock or upset. There is more interest in how art makes people feel and the experience of art has become at least as important as the practice of it."


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October 15 2011

My Frieze week - in pictures

It's the biggest week in Britain's art calendar when thousands of visitors come to check out the fair and London's galleries unleash their big guns. Art-world figures, including artists Tracey Emin and Polly Morgan, pick their highlights from Frieze 2011 and the dozens of other shows across the capital



July 20 2011

Michael Landy's art goes down the tube

Asking Underground travellers to report on acts of kindness may be heartwarming, but never achieves the intensity of great art

Art is alchemy. It can transform the humblest objects, the most everyday stuff, into pure gold. It is hard to explain how artists perform their magic, and this is why philistine scepticism always flourishes. I can't give a particularly rational account of the poetry and power of an installation by Joseph Beuys, for example. In the end, a good artist is a conjurer or even, as Beuys claimed for himself, a shaman.

Michael Landy is an artist who for me never achieves that enchantment, that intoxication. He would surely reply that he doesn't want to intoxicate but to make people think. This British artist combines an emphasis on everyday life with an implicitly radical view of modern society. So he's a modern realist. He first became known for Scrapheap Services, a dystopian social tableau that at least has a historical merit, reminding us that "young British art" two decades ago was born out of a recession. Since then, Landy has destroyed all his possessions as a work of art, exhibited portrait drawings of friends and family, and trashed art by others. Now he has a project called Acts of Kindness in a string of stations along the London Underground's Central line, where he asks people to talk about moments of helpfulness they've experienced on the tube.

There don't seem to be many such moments, to judge by Holborn station, where some of Landy's tales of subterranean generosity are on display. The fragile posters with their heartwarming contents are few and far between. It's early days: these first anecdotes will presumably inspire more people to submit stories, and the posters may proliferate over the summer. Or not.

The accounts themselves are almost comically banal. Someone helped me with my bag. The next is a variant on the same thing. None of the tales on display at Holborn is especially striking or dramatic.

Landy fans may answer: that's the point – here is an artist who does not sensationalise but instead tries to reveal the humble reality of good and evil in everyday life. This is an old British art attitude in new clothes. "Kitchen sink realists" were all the rage in British painting 60 years ago. Landy may be decent and honourable but I just don't see any alchemy in his art – it does not flare into anything rich or strange. Of course, art should be about life. But sometimes the cult of the ordinary is just a mask for a complete lack of imagination.


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March 21 2011

Artangel: Frontline warriors

In 1991, two young men decided it was time art broke out of the gallery – and become an event in its own right. John O'Mahony meets the Artangel revolutionaries who changed Britain

'Here," said Robert Wilson, making his way through an underground labyrinth of caverns, arches and alcoves, "I want a pile of yellow sulphur." In the darkness, people around him took careful note. "And here," continued the American guru of the avant garde nonchalantly, "I want hundreds of golden arrows flying through the air, suspended in mid-flight . . ."

The year was 1995, and the setting was the cavernous Clink Street Vaults on London's Bankside. I had gone behind the scenes, and was getting my first glimpse into the shadowy workings of an art production outfit known as Artangel. Although the company had been in existence for a few years, its ambitious new commission – HG, a vast installation by the legendarily demanding Wilson, based extremely loosely on The Time Machine by HG Wells – was on an altogether more monumental scale.

Following Wilson, the Artangel crew (producers Michael Morris and James Lingwood, plus an army of support staff) were unblinkingly jotting down even the most outlandish request. They then spent the ensuing months transforming this subterranean expanse into an immersive dreamscape of dripping lightbulbs, glittering sphinxes, mummified corpses and ruined temples.

"At one point, he requested an amphibian," remembers Morris, with a chuckle. "So we found this guy from a place called Animal Ark, who would show up every day with strange animals. Finally, he brought this weird thing called an axolotl: a dark, almost prehistoric creature with feathery gills. Bob gave a nod, and so the axolotl took up residence, a lurking presence at the bottom of a glowing tank of water."

For the past 20 years, Artangel has been playing a crucial, if backroom, role – as curator, facilitator, fundraiser, administrator, babysitter and celestial guardian – to some of Britain and the world's most radical, daring and provocative artists. Even before HG, the company had already made a splash in 1993, as the unseen hand behind Rachel Whiteread's House, a concrete cast of the insides of an entire terraced house in London.

The work proved as controversial as Carl Andre's infamous pile of bricks and Damien Hirst's formaldehyde shark: it was praised as "testimony to the human spirit" and denigrated as "a joke" and "a monstrosity". On the day it won the Turner prize, Whiteread was named "worst artist of the year" by a subversive rival award.

Other comparably bold and confrontational Artangel projects include Jeremy Deller's 2001 The Battle of Orgreave, a spectacular real-time re-enactment of one of the most divisive conflicts of the miner's strike in 1984; and, also in 2001, Michael Landy's Break Down, in which Landy set about obliterating all his worldly possessions, in the archly ironic consumer setting of a former C&A store in London. Few other organisations would have had the courage to take on such uncompromising, barrier-breaking projects. "No commercial gallery would touch me," says Landy. "So they were a godsend."

As well as supporting 55 or so artists over their two-decade span, Artangel pioneered the use of unconventional venues and refined the notion of spectacular one-off art events. "They've had a huge effect on the cultural landscape," says Deller. "Something like the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern – that's really just a kind of ongoing Artangel project. The Turbine Hall would never even have been thought about if it hadn't been for Artangel."

Low-key and reserved, the two men behind Artangel seem blithely unconcerned by the fact that, while they toil in the background, the artists are out there getting all the attention, glory and Turner prizes. "One of the main skills of a producer is the ability to step back," says Lingwood. "It's our job to keep perspective, to keep calm," adds Morris.

Two middle-class boys from not terribly artistic households, they met at Oundle school in Peterborough and became colleagues at the ICA in the 1980s, during its experimental golden years: Morris as director of performing arts, Lingwood overseeing the gallery. It was during this period that many of the ideas that fuelled the Artangel credo were conceived. "We were frustrated at the limitations of what we were doing," says Morris. "I wanted to do things of a different scale. We wanted to go beyond the white walls of the gallery and the black box of the theatre, to explore uncharted territory."

Ultimately, the duo wanted to completely change the way audiences experience art: "We wanted everything to seem like an event," says Lingwood, "with art so immersive and absorbing, you simply can't get away from it."

In 1991, they got the chance – when offered joint directorship of Artangel, which had existed in other incarnations since the mid-80s. Their breakthrough came when Lingwood paid a visit, shortly afterwards, to the studio of a little-known artist named Rachel Whiteread. "He just sat in the chair and I gave him a cup of tea," she recalls. "He asked if there was anything I wanted to make. And I said I'd like to cast a whole house in concrete. He just said, 'Great, OK, let's do it.'"

As soon as the concrete had set on 193 Grove Road in Bow, the outrage and campaigning began. Just hours before it received the Turner prize, the council voted to have House demolished. "It was one of the worst days of my life," says Lingwood. "The first part of the evening was spent attending a meeting of Bow neighbourhood council. And I had to go from there to Millbank to convey the news to Rachel, before she learned that she had won the Turner prize." House was demolished in 1994.

Shredders and soldiers

But the notoriety and scandal put Artangel on the map, allowing them to move on to larger-scale projects such as HG. The two projects that really confirmed Artangel as a major force, however, came not from their trademark "conversations" with carefully selected artists, but from an open call for submissions via a national newspaper.

The first was Michael Landy's anticapitalist statement. "Michael was going to catalogue everything he owned and then just destroy it," says Lingwood. "The challenge was how to present this dismantling and deconstruction to the public in an interesting way." Artangel injected a sense of theatre with an "anti-production-line" of conveyor belts and chutes that fed Landy's clothes, cooker and even his Saab into gigantic mechanical shredders. Appropriately, when it was all over, all Landy had left was a boiler suit he borrowed from Artangel.

The second was Deller's pitch for The Battle of Orgreave, which was scrawled on one side of A4. "It was a haiku of a proposal," says Lingwood. "But its implications were enormous." Deller's plan to re-enact the clash in the fields around a South Yorkshire coking plant in 1984 proved a gargantuan logistical undertaking. It marshalled over 800 participants – some of them former miners and policemen who had faced each other in the original battle, others drawn from re-enactment societies all over the country. "On the night before, everyone gathered together in the fields of Orgreave, in a kind of makeshift military camp," says Lingwood. "It really felt like the night before a real battle."

Since those successes, Artangel has continued to take on only the most towering, unwieldy projects, including 2003's Imber, a three-day promenade event about the Salisbury Plain village evacuated in 1943 to make way for US soldiers training for the Normandy landings; and 2005's Küba, an video installation by Turkish artist Kutlug˘ Ataman that took place in a gigantic postal sorting office in central London.

To mark their 20th year, in a nod to posterity, the Artangel duo are donating part of their video archive to the Tate. They insist there is no grand plan for the future, simply the hope that new associations with new artists will take them on new journeys as huge in scale and ambition as House, Orgreave and Break Down. "I can't say what our strategy is because it involves things we don't know about yet," says Morris. "Expect more of what we've done," adds Lingwood. "And some of what we can't imagine."


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January 28 2010

Scrapheap challenge

Michael Landy has transformed the South London Gallery into a giant dustbin – for other people's art



January 24 2010

My week: Michael Landy

The artist considers his most ambitious work yet – junking the works of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin

My idea for Art Bin goes back, I now think, to the number of years I spent in an Acme studio complex where all around me, beyond the thin walls of my own place, people were producing art, often art I would never see.

What happens to all the artists who never get shown? And what happens to their art? If nobody ever sees it, can you say that it actually exists? I've known artists dedicate themselves to one line of work and not get anywhere.

And then there are other artists, known artists, who get rid of their work as a sort of decluttering exercise, or in a bid to change themselves, and their work, and move on, artists such as John Baldessari.

Either way, I was interested in failure – a collective, creative failure. And those things which we decide have no importance we throw in a bin. Bring the two together – the art and the failure – and you end up with a whole gallery that's become a bin. In this case, it is a huge, 600 cubic metre galvanised steel bin occupying most of the South London Gallery in Peckham.

Anyone is invited to come along and offer a piece to throw in – it can be your own work or something that you own (you can even apply via the internet at art-bin.co.uk). At one end of the space are steps; from the top, you can then throw in the art. It's quite a height – five metres – so it's an unceremonious journey for the rejected work. Many pieces should destroy themselves on impact. If they manage to survive, they will end up in landfill. (I wonder whether I will get more stick for destroying the art or adding to the landfill.)

I don't really think about the "concept" of any work in advance, but I suppose it's all about value – how to determine it and who decides what has value and what doesn't. But if Art Bin is a home for failure, are some things too good to go in?

No, nothing is too good to go in, but I wonder if I will let the indifferently bad in. I also suspect that some people are making work specifically for Art Bin, which is not quite the idea, not quite the spirit of the piece.

Somebody tried their luck with a work called My Life in Bottle Tops – I didn't buy it. I thought these bottle tops had been hastily gathered and arranged in a rectangle. I smelt something odd. I could, of course, be wrong but ultimately I decide what goes in – I am the bin monitor! – and My Life in Bottle Tops was kept out of the bin

I asked some "names" to contribute upfront, to get the ball rolling. So we've got, among others, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Julian Opie and Gary Hume. In fact, Damien's contributed three paintings, three of his skull paintings. Which I think look rather good, but they're in.

One perverse, unforeseen result of the conceit is that there are lots of people queuing up to be in the Bin, eager to be in the bin.

If you're not a "name" artist, this could be the first rung on the ladder, so that you embrace failure as a route to success.

It doesn't take great art detective work to link Art Bin to Break Down, my work from 2001, when, in a vacant C&A shop in Oxford Street, central London, I got rid of all my possessions over a two-week period – all 7,226 of them (including my passport and VAT records).

When I think back to that now, I realise I hadn't considered what all the consequences might be, I hadn't thought about what my life might feel like after the event.

I was solely interested in what happened during the two weeks, in front of 50,000 people, and interested in the emotions that would be thrown up. There were so many emotions that I was quite numb afterwards.

There were also funnier moments – most of the items which were stolen were stolen at the private view, which might say something about the art world, might say at least that every item at private views should be nailed down.

And, in truth, afterwards what hit me was just the tedium of trying to get on with life.

You get rid of one life, you have to get hold of another. I had to buy some clean underpants, a toothbrush and get rid of the ginger beard that I had acquired.

I'm still living with the impact of Break Down – I'm lighter, at least, of 7,226 items and I did get into the habit of doing without. I don't know how much of a profound statement it was on the consumerist society, but I certainly don't own so much any more.

One thing, or beautiful beast, I would love to keep closer ownership of is my dog, May. My only release from art at the moment is, in theory, taking the dog for a walk. But once we're in the park, I never see her – she has developed an unhealthy interest in squirrels. I've now taken to spraying her under the chin with a fragrance which, when I spray it around myself, summons her back to me. Talk about controlling…

Critics will line up to suggest that Art Bin is definitive proof that modern art is rubbish. How helpful of me to provide ammunition for them. But there has not been, as some had predicted, much of a slowing down in the art market in the wake of the financial crash. There's been no real decline in the contemporary London art scene which burgeoned in a couple of decades from three or four galleries which were there when I left college to today's huge scene of museums and galleries and fairs… and now art bins.

But, as I suggested earlier, the bin won't be a home for any old rubbish. As the opening day approaches, I'm becoming more and more protective about what I might allow in there. There are not rules, but I know what I like. Or rather, don't like.


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January 12 2010

Michael Landy's art bin

Michael Landy, who once destroyed all his possessions as an act of ­artistic creation, is currently transforming the South London Gallery into a giant container for the disposal of art: an "art bin", open to the public from 29 January. Over the past couple of days, Michael Craig-Martin, Gary Hume and Gillian Wearing (Landy's partner) have had work accepted, making it a very classy dustbin indeed. (You have to ­apply: not everyone's knitting is ­worthy of inclusion in Landy's ­"monument to creative failure".)


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November 27 2009

What is it about Michael Landy?

So what if he picked up a pencil and draws from life? There are far better artists out there to honour with an associateship

It's very hard to tell the good from the bad. It's so much easier to know why Raphael is better than Fra Bartolommeo than to say why one of the apparently thousands of contemporary comers may be the real thing when so many others clearly are not.

I faced that challenge when I accepted the invitation to be a Turner prize juror for this year. In searching out artists whom I admire, I also thought more clearly about whom I don't. And I don't like Michael Landy, whom the National Gallery has just appointed as its latest associate artist. The press release is full of enthusiasm for the fact that in his recent works, Landy draws from nature. Big deal.

An exhibition at Thomas Dane gallery last year, in which Landy showed portraits of people in the art world, was completely unconvincing. His drawings have a meticulous accuracy, but no heart or inspiration, no deep seeing. I find them cold, trivial exercises. Admittedly, I hate some of the people he draws. But that's not why I dislike the portraits – I find them anodyne and sterile, and think that they carry no more authority as serious art than Damien Hirst's paintings do. Except that Landy has done it all with much better taste, of course, on a small, intimate scale. So while everyone can point and laugh at Hirst, immensely knowledgable curators at the National Gallery are taken in by Landy's damp squibs.

It's like the curators halted at step one in the process of finding quality in contemporary art. Starting from an instinctive belief, which I share, that there is such a thing as talent, they have rewarded an artist simply for drawing from life. It's like the proverbial dog walking on its hind legs – a modern artist who owns a pencil! Give that man an associateship!

Landy's performative and installation art is drab – his full-scale model of his family home in Tate Britain was less artistic than the average Hornby railway layout. Now he draws. But there are much better sketchers out there if only you look. And much better artists, full stop.


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