:: Article

Stuck Inn X

By Charles Thomson.


Boogie-Woogie, Danny Moynihan, Atlantic Books 2010

Danny Moynihan’s Boogie-Woogie, a tale about gallery land released as book in 2000 and a film earlier this year, provides an interesting study of the artworld and its interaction with the media, though not so much in the fictional narrative, as in the real world events surrounding it.

The novel is set in New York. In an interview with Joanna Pitman in The Times in 2000, Moynihan described it as “a realistic portrayal of this bizarre world – I haven’t exaggerated things at all – but I have tried to avoid basing the characters on specific people. It’s not really a parody, it avoids parodying particular characters I know”.

Whoever wrote the jacket blurb seems to have understandably mistaken reality for “deliciously satirical scenes”, an interpretation immediately picked up by reviewers, who judged the book (mostly adversely) on that basis. Meanwhile, despite what she had just been told, Pitman could not resist imagining, “the fevered fingerpointing that will be taking place in New York this month as the key players in the art world riffle through the pages looking for portrayals of themselves and their rivals.”

They probably succeeded in that attempt in the same way that people can identify with the generalised observations in newspaper astrology columns, since the book’s characters are not individuals, but types. Art Spindle, the successful gallerist, lusts after a Mondrian painting, which gives the story its name; Elaine is the ambitious student video artist; Bob and his wife Jean are the air-headed collectors of expensive art trophies.

Moynihan was a Slade student, at the same time that his father, Rodrigo Moynihan, was the visiting professor of painting there. In the interview by Pitman, he criticised the art historical ignorance of young artists, who want “a simple one-hit sensation”, and lambasted the press releases, reviews and catalogue essays as “all just a load of bollocks. You’ve never read so much bollocks in your life.”

The tried-and-tested methodology of bollocks is, of course, the inflation of a simple idea “by using long words and medical jargon and specialist technical terms” to provide the art crowd, who “have no idea what they’re talking about”, with something to talk about. Moynihan may know what’s wrong, but that doesn’t stop him doing it, when in the same interview he described Psycho – a show he was curating of YBAs and others – as “looking at the way the artist decontextualises the body part”.

The film Boogie Woogie drops the hyphen in the title and is set in London. Richard Clayton in the Sunday Times, recorded the observations of Johnnie Shand Kydd, photographer of the YBAs, that there were “a few people a wee bit nervous about how they were going to be presented” and that “You can sort of see people being vaguely recognisable”. Art adviser Nathalie Hambro found “they were hardly disguised.” Duncan Ward, the film’s director, let slip the characters were “a collage of a number of artists”. An anonymous collector opined that Spindle’s black framed glasses, identical to those worn by Jay Jopling, were “a bit of a giveaway.” An equally anonymous “art-world source” pointed instead to the dealer, Anthony d’Offay.

An unnamed dealer confided the film got “everything right” about the sexual romping, and Kydd chuckled he would lose most of his artist friends if he were to spill the beans about such things. Philip French in The Observer saw Elaine’s video as “turning her louche life into a vast, Emin-style installation”. Ward, interviewed by Artinfo, said about the comparison with Emin, “It’s not inaccurate,” and continued unabashed in the same sentence to say Elaine wasn’t modelled on Emin at all, but on “obscure female video artists”.

As the characters and story lines are the same as those in the original novel, which was based on the New York art scene in the 1990s, it’s somewhat baffling how they can suddenly be based on the London art scene in the 2000s, but as Ward observed, “That titillation was easy to achieve”. Philip French thought that “this disastrous comedy is another example of what I once dubbed ‘flatire’, flattery posing as satire.”

It is business as usual. Ward mused, “I’ve been in and out of the art world doing films for 20 years, so I know most of the people in it”, one of them being his wife, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, former facilitator for Larry Gagosian, host of trendy art events at Sudely Castle, and International Coordinator for The Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow. Meanwhile author-turned-script writer Moynihan has friendships with Jopling, Gagosian and especially Damien Hirst, the art curator for the film, who even created a whole show of paintings for one set.

No one seems to have noticed that Charles Saatchi became a disappeared person in the 2008 reissue of the book. The back cover of the original publication in 2000 proudly displayed his accolade: “A witty and painfully accurate portrait of the artworld in a beautifully constructed tale. No sleep for you the night you open it” Eight years on, this was nowhere to be found. In 2000, Saatchi was happily buying Hirst’s sculpture Hymn for a reported £1 million, but by 2008 he had sold off his collection of Hirst’s work – a considerable amount of it to Hirst himself, who exclaimed petulantly, “I’m not Charles Saatchi’s barrel-organ monkey.”

Nor has anyone mentioned the elephant in the room. All the typical characters of the art world are represented in the film apart from a major artist. There was one in the book: Ivor Schneider, who decided he wanted to go it alone free from gallery ties, but ended up humiliated, when his solo project for a show went horribly awry and he lost all his work. Around the time the film was made, Hirst was also breaking away from the gallery system to launch his own solo project for a major show and auction at Sotheby’s. Hirst’s fear was of an impending disaster, and the potential parallel with Schneider would hardly have been welcome. A titillation too far, one might say.

A version of this review was also published in the July/August 2010 issue of The Jackdaw.

Charles Thomson
was the only person in 10 years to fail the painting degree at Maidstone College of Art. In 1979, he was a founder member of The Medway Poets, and then a full-time poet for 13 years, with work in over 100 anthologies. In 1999 he named, co-founded and has since been the driving force of the Stuckism movement, which now numbers more than 200 groups in 48 countries. He has demonstrated for 10 years outside the Turner Prize, and in 2005 applied under the Freedom of Information Act for Tate trustee minutes about the gallery’s purchase of its trustee Chris Ofili’s work. This led in 2006 to the Charity Commission’s ruling that the Tate had been acting illegally for the last 50 years. His painting satirising Sir Nicholas Serota, whose face peers over a large pair of (Tracey Emin’s) red knickers, is a well-known image. He was briefly married to artist Stella Vine in 2001.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, July 28th, 2010.