Wednesday, 3 March 2010
I've always tended to think of Elton John as something of a twat. But all that's changed on the back of a story I picked up in The Art Newspaper this morning. Apparently a few years ago Elton John asked Gary Hume to make a piece of art work for his shower room.
Hume reports: "I said to him, 'of course, what a nice idea,' but inside I was thinking, 'are you fucking mad? Of course I don't want to make anything for your shower. How insulting!' After that, every time I saw him he would say, 'how's the shower piece going?' and I'd say, 'fine.' Then, after about two years, he said: 'Look, Gary, what's happening?' So I said that I didn't want to do it after all. So he said: "Well, why don't you get a can of spray paint, write, 'Elton is a cunt' in my shower, and I'll buy it."
In the end it seems Hume built some marble thing inspired by William Blake's gravestone for Elton's shower on the back of which he'd written 'Elton is a cunt'.
I've got a few problems with this story. Firstly, if a person doesn't want to do something he's been invited to do then the respectful course of action is to grow a pair and very politely decline the offer, perhaps with a blow softening tale involving the over committed status of one's schedule at the present time.
Secondly, if a person were 'insulted' by the idea of creating a work of art for a shower room, why would he then do it anyway? In ruminating on this question the only conclusion I've been able to arrive at - and I apologise in advance if this is either wildly inaccurate or 'insulting' - is that the artist must have 'sold out', that is to say, abandoned his apparently rather grandiose if fragile artistic integrity over the small matter of a few quid. Fair enough, we all need to earn a living, but you can't have it both ways I'm afraid, or at least not without seeming to be both a snob and a sell out.
Thirdly, what exactly is the problem with housing a piece of artwork in a shower room? I just do not get it actually, this pathetic snobbery around where a 'serious' piece of artwork can and cannot allow itself to be seen. Is this a piece of art we're talking about or is this Paris bloody Hilton on a night out? Is there something inherently unserious about a shower? Is a bedroom more 'serious'? Or a drawing room perhaps? Yes, I'm sure a drawing room must be higher up the social ranking on the art snobs guide to where to hang your overpriced YBA work, than a lowly shower room, the room after all in which one's ablutions are shame facedly carried out. Or is a pitch black climate controlled Momart warehouse the only place that a 'serious' work of art should be seen these days? Assuming, that is, that nobody's planning on having a fag anywhere near the place whilst your stuff's lauding it about in there.
If it were a watercolour we were speaking of then of course a shower room would be totally inappropriate and I would take Mr Hume's point entirely. But what's being mooted here is a site-specific piece in which the characteristics of the intended location be taken into account at the drawing board stage. Wealthy patrons have been commissioning art since the dawn of time so I struggle to imagine that's the problem. No, it sounds to me like a case of good old fashioned insecurity and the inherent belief on the part of its creator that the art work can't stand up for itself without seriousness being conveyed upon it by the supposed gravitas of its surroundings. Doesn't say much for the art does it?
For all his cheesy music, preposterous tantrums and ghastly toupés sitting on his head like old women at a bus stop, at least Elton John's got the bottle to think for himself.
Gary Hume's New Work is currently showing at the New Art Centre, Roche Court until 18 April 2010. A gallery's alright then is it? Oh yes I see, of course, a gallery's alright.