Tuesday, 1 June 2004

Saatchi Warehouse modern art disaster

Much has been made in the news of the loss of an enormous collection of modern art, when the Saatchi warehoused collection burned down. Some have suggested that the actual burning should be treated as an example of performance art, and in general the public reaction has been pretty scathing, as few people can understand why Tracy Emin’s ‘dirty washing’ should be treated as art in the first place. Defining art is difficult, but to the majority it still involves a degree of skill or craft, as well as concepts. Which makes much contemporary art hard to swallow, and since it is not particularly original – the ability to shock was played out at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries – one is left with a rather vacuous sensation that art is now largely defined by collectors and galleries. Anything that can persuade a fool to part with money becomes important art.

But the real tragedy of the burning warehouse was that it drew attention to the ridiculous value placed on worthless objects. I say worthless objects purposefully, since their only real value lay in the fact that someone had paid a huge amount of money for them. Most, if not all the works burned are reproducible. Unlike endangered species. The art world has got completely out of control, when millions of dollars are paid for a single painting by Van Gogh of a vase of sunflowers, but the natural world that produced the sunflowers is disappearing before our eyes. The loss of Sara Lucas’s bathtub, is no great loss – Man Ray’s Fountain showed that many decades ago. But the loss of a single species is an irreparable loss to the world. For the price of a third rate work of contemporary art, the World Land Trust could create a whole nature reserve, and save an entire endangered species. Our Green Ink initiative has got writers and illustrators supporting conservation – perhaps some contemporary artists could think of a way of making a really significant contribution to the future of the world’s wildlife.

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