Fewer than half of my readers reside in the United States, say my statistics; most of them appear to be from Europe, first the UK followed by France, then Germany, then the lovely towns and cities of Central Europe. As somebody who considers myself as constitutionally more of a European than an American, this is somehow fitting. I’m not sure what to make of it, really; if I don’t quite fit in here, it’s impossible to pull up stakes and haul self and family to a spacious London or Vienna flat anyway. At least, though, the Internet permits me to try and stay on top of a few things overseas — and what follows will probably be of more interest to Londoners than my American readers. But if anybody will be enjoying a cross-Atlantic flight in the next few weeks or months, there are a few hints below as to suggested days and nights at the museum or theatre, along with some wise annotation.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Sarah Kane and Damien Hirst first came to prominence in England. Last month in Exeunt magazine, Stewart Pringle looked back on the period and the continuing relevance (or irrelevance) of many artists and dramatists of Cool Britannia, especially given the current Tate Modern retrospective of Hirst’s work and the return of Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney and Mercury Fur. Remarking on Hirst’s enshrinement in the Tate institution, Mr. Pringle concludes:
It’s unfortunate for Hirst that [this] is the only kind of revival his work can enjoy. It’s a curse of fine art that theatre escapes. When Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney was revived at the Arcola earlier this year, it felt more vicious than ever. Hirst’s shark, by contrast, now looks small, sad and toothless. When Kane or Ridley are revived they are revived through the living, in a living space which has grown out of its own era. There was a theatre and excitement when Duchamp placed his urinal on a plinth in New York, and when Hirst’s shark first swam through the formaldehyde to take a chunk out of 20th century art. That was part of their magic and their power, and though it lives on through the artists Duchamp and Hirst have and will inspire, the urinal and the shark now feel like husks.
This isn’t an attack on contemporary or conceptual art, more a lament for its impermanence. Hirst is a man obsessed with his own immortality, there can be no more blatant pledge for it than the diamond skull currently resting in its own pharaoh’s tomb in the Turbine Hall, which will have to last forever and be valued forever because it is intrinsically valuable, neither time nor taste can weather it, which makes the evanescence of his brilliance all the more tragic. Now that the shockwaves have faded and the outrage has calmed, a surprising truth emerges: Hirst is dead and Kane is alive.
So long as we’re taking the long view, I note that the Guardian is celebrating Arnold Wesker‘s 80th birthday with a new profile from Michael Billington; Billington also reviews Wesker’s recent provocation, Denial, a play from 2000 which is receiving its London premiere at the King’s Head theatre through 6 June. A happy birthday to Mr. Wesker, if he’s one of those British visitors who reads these words (one never knows). I wrote about Wesker and a few other British dramatists of his generation last year here.