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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 13:36 GMT
Gallery boss sparks concept art row
Tracey Emin
In the frame: Tracey Emin shows off a painting
A row among the art world has been ignited by Ivan Massow, head of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, who said most conceptual art was "pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat".

His comments that former Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin was unable to "think her way out of a paper bag" prompted on her to call for his resignation.

She told the BBC: "For someone who couldn't think her way out of a paper bag, from my background, I've done pretty well, thank you."

Artists like Emin and Turner Prize winner Damien Hirst have become some of the most famous living artists in the country through a shocking and unconventional approach.

Emin's My Bed
Emin's My Bed caused a storm when it went on show
Mr Massow wrote in the New Statesman magazine: "It is the product of over-indulged, middle class (barely concealed behind mockney accents), bloated egos who patronise real people with fake understanding."

The Stuckists, a group of artists who protest against what they see as the domination of conceptual art over more tradtional art - the Turner Prize in particular - leapt to Massow's defence.

The group's leader, Charles Thompson, said: "I think he's very courageous, saying this.

But Thompson added: "He's going to find himself out in the cold - there is a very strong establishment."

We were the child that said 'the Emperor has got no clothes' - and now some of the adults are agreeing with us

Charles Thompson, Stuckists

He said Mr Massow had clearly articulated the Stuckists' position.

"Essentially, that's our argument - that's exactly what we believe and have been saying for the last three years.

"We were the child that said 'the Emperor has got no clothes' - and now some of the adults are agreeing with us.

"When we said it initially, it was such a shock that anyone within the art establishment could say it," he added.

Ivan Massow
Massow: "We have an official art - concept art"
Mr Thompson said critics like the Stuckists and Mr Massow were "heretics, not pagans", and their views could not simply be brushed aside.

But while artists such as Emin were prepared to defend their work, galleries housing conceptual art were less forthcoming.

The Saatchi gallery, which Mr Massow described as one of the "crystal Kremlins" responsible for the dominance of conceptual art, declined to comment.

Tate Modern also did not wish to comment on Mr Massow's views.

A spokeswoman for the ICA told BBC News Online on Thursday that Mr Massow's views were unlikely to change the gallery's criteria towards the exhibitions it stages.


She said she could not comment on how much influence Mr Massow had over what gets shown.

The ICA describes itself as "a public playground" for presenting and experimenting with new and challenging art and forging innovative ways of thinking about culture.

Daniele Dodd, one of the founders of the charity Salon Des Arts, which raises money to promote the arts, said she thought conceptual art was "great when the idea behind it has value".

"My problem with a lot of what people do is they think anything can go, but that's not true.

"People say: 'I'll do that because I like it' - but it's not a concept."


This is not the first time high-profile figures have disagreed about the merits of conceptual art - critics were divided over Martin Creed winning the Turner Prize with The Lights Going On and Off.

And in April the former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, set up a board to judge the morality of publicly funded art.

He created the decency commission in the wake of his disgust at recent exhibitions, including Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili's painting of the Virgin Mary engrained with elephant dung in 1999.

Conceptual art
More than just "craftless tat"?
See also:

10 Dec 01 | Arts
Creed lights up Turner prize
24 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Turner shortlist show unveiled
28 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Hillary steps into dung art row
25 Apr 01 | Arts
Emin's new show gets personal
13 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Emin airs her dirty linen
28 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Turner Prize 2000: The shock of the old
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