The Evil Imp

Curator Without A Clue

We have written often, here in TheLab™, about the fact that when the self appointed upper echelons of the arts complain about funding they often come across as self-serving, pompous buffoons. The reason they sound like self-serving, pompous buffoons is because, more often than not, they are self-serving, pompous buffoons.

Step forward Nicholas Serota, Chief Bottle Washer at Tate Britain. Mr Serota has been all over the press in recent months, (allegedly) sticking up for the arts but more often than not he comes across as a man sticking up for his very large salary.

Last week Tate Britain, aided and abetted by the Heritage Lottery Fund (£15.8Million in public money) and a few charitable trusts with more money than sense, ponied up more than £23Million for a single painting by John Constable, “Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows”, a painting of a cathedral in Salisbury from a meadow. (!, Ed!)

This act of, if we’re being generous, colossal short-sightedness was carried out to “save” the work for the British public. Save it from what is not at all clear because despite the fact the painting was privately owned for more than a 130 years it had been on display
at the National Gallery in London since 1983.

When we spoke with Tate Britain they told us there was no specific threat that the work was going to leave the UK but it was always a possibility when you sell things on the open market. The gallery did confirm that there were other people interested in the painting but declined to say who they were. A spokesperson also said that the family of Lord Ashdon of Hyde, who owned the painting, approached the gallery to buy the work because they wanted it to stay in the country.

Tate Britain did say that there were other interested parties but they would not have been eligible for any tax concessions so the asking price would have been £40Million.

If your “thing” is fanciful pictures of the English countryside then you could see “Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” as often as you wanted to. Failing that you could just go to Salisbury Cathedral itself because it’s still there, in Salisbury, for all to see.Not sure about the meadow though, that might have been turned into a Tesco.


“Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows”, it’s a painting of a cathedral…….. from a meadow!

Reasonable Doubt

Even if there was any tangible evidence that the painting was going to end up in a private collection or be shipped overseas, so what? It’s just one painting, there are plenty of other Constable works to be seen in the UK and plenty of works by other artists filling up galleries across the nation. Tate Britain itself is not short of a work or two to put on display.

Also, we’re pretty sure there are plenty of prints of this particular piece so nobody was going to forget what it looked like.

It might also be a good idea to question the need for public galleries to pay out exorbitant sums of money for art work in general. The stock market looks positively sane when compared to the ridiculous sums of money being exchanged by bored billionaires for ancient paintings of fields.

A Deeper Mania

Tate Britain’s purchase of this painting deftly illustrates the tone deaf attitude of those responsible. For three years now the arts, and culture in general, have taken a severe beating thanks to cynical government cuts.

This is of course news to our national organisations who are still spending money like water spewing from a broken tap on, in this instance, colossally expensive trinkets of dubious value to the public at large. It’s a disconnection from reality matched only by people who willingly vote for UKIP.

Like so many spoiled children in a toy store they screamed ‘I Want! I Want! I Want!” and their obliging parents bought them their new toy.

How ridiculous does it sound to the average member of the public when people like Nicholas Serota are complaining about cuts and hard times ahead in the press as they hand over £23Million for one painting? This is perhaps the greatest problem with the large scale, a complete and utter lack of tact, a complete and utter lack of comprehension of the public mood.

Too often this country gets obsessed with the work of too few individuals whether they be painters or choreographers and those individuals, even if they’re no longer alive, are singled out for special treatment.

At this moment in time arts and culture organisations need to invest in people and artists who have not been dead for nearly two hundred years. The £15Million public slice of funding used for this purchase could have commissioned many thousands of works from living artists. That’s the type of investment that creates economic growth and stability as well as lots of fresh new art work that can be put on display all over the country.

We realise that investment in people and new ideas, not ancient paintings, does not sit well with the massive egos of people like Nicholas Serota and his almost entirely fictional position of importance in this world. However, much like any politician, given enough time, he can simply be disposed of and replaced with somebody that actually has a clue.