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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
Thatcher stars in art show

By Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff

'Thatcher' by Sean Landers
The show is 'not anti-Thatcher', says curator

Margaret Thatcher with a red nose, resembling Ronald McDonald. A diminished Margaret Thatcher wearing a headscarf and looking more like Vera Duckworth.

At first glance, it would be easy to dub The Blue Gallery's "exhibition of new contemporary art" the "anti-Thatcher show".

In fact, the so-called Iron Lady may well be "for turning" if she pokes her head round the door of the exhibition in Great Sutton Street. Turning away, shaking her head, wondering about this interpretation of her legacy.

She has the eyes of Caligula, but the mouth of Marilyn Monroe
Francois Mitterrand

There is no great flourish to the title of the display, found down a back street several hundred yards from the Barbican in London.

It is called simply "Thatcher".

Tara Howard, an independent curator and brains behind the show, insists she is not angling for an anti-Thatcher interpretation.

'Important political figure'

Drawing on her cigarette, she stresses: "It's neither an attack nor a homage to her. My stated point was a new iconography for Thatcher.

"I think she is one of the most important figures in British political history in the last 100 years. There's Churchill and Thatcher - and nobody else."

Lady Thatcher has even been invited to see the exhibits, says Miss Howard. "We are hoping she will come on her return from South Africa," she adds sweetly.

'3ft Thatcher' by Kenny Hunter
The pose is 'of the political orator'

Whatever the deal, at least two artists were very keen to explain to BBC News Online that opposition to the first British female prime minister had indeed inspired their offerings.

Kenny Hunter says his "3ft Thatcher", made of resin and 30% coal dust - ground himself using a pestle and mortar - and standing atop an oil drum, is purposely shrunken to "diminish her".

Gone is the power suit, instead, Mrs T is resplendent in a housewifey headscarf, Mac and trusty handbag, her hand outstretched.

Miners strike

Mr Hunter says his work "underpins the whole industrial conflict" during Thatcherism.

"The coal dust refers to her battle with the miners and the oil drum is the brazier around which they stood," he said.

"Her image has been subverted by shrinking her down, using poor materials and found objects - things that are from the real world.

"It makes Thatcher kind of malevolent and banal, while absurd at the same time," he adds.

His other work, a mongrel dog called "Home Guard", seems less critical of the baroness, standing atop a map of the Falkland Islands, sporting a Sea Harrier nosecone for a nose and painted in the jet's combat colours.

No giant is greater than Margaret Thatcher
William Hague

Bob Smith is another artist with an axe to grind, with his picture depicting the abstract saying "left is the new right".

He didn't want to "waste any brain cells thinking about Margaret Thatcher", so he repainted a picture he had already created for Ken Livingstone's mayoral campaign.

Mr Smith, 40, said the painting originated from his belief that Lady Thatcher's former colleagues, like Chris Patten, Leon Brittan and Geoffrey Howe, were "way to the left of our current prime minister".

"It is interesting how, in that sense, the right are the new left and left is the new right," he said.


Labour supporter Mr Smith, who is part of the artistic partnership Bob and Roberta Smith - his sister, now a psychiatric nurse in York - said his reused painting showed the "ebb and flow of political thought".

The Blue Gallery features a mix of artwork, some more obviously related to Lady Thatcher than others.

The eye is immediately drawn to American Sean Landers' almost comic depiction of the ex-PM as a clown.

Left is the new right' by Bob and Roberta Smith
The picture depicts 'the ebb and flow of political thought'

Ms Howard quickly explained the artist has drawn clowns heads on three other portraits, and was not making fun of Mrs Thatcher specifically.

"He said it is meaningless. He is just playing around with her image, not making a political statement of any kind."

I can see Lady T draping her handkerchief over this one.

Martin Creed, famed for his Turner prize winner "The Lights Going On and Off", presented a sheet of paper with the words: "Something on the left, just as you come in, not too high or low."

Eyes shut

Fellow Turner prize winner Keith Tyson entered a montage of jumbled images from the Thatcher years, like Ronald Reagan and a British Rail sign, topped with an image of her face in sand, and the words: "But in case you were thinking of glancing over your shoulder."

In a further studio, a television plays "The sleep of reason", or Mrs T's 1982 conference speech, but edited by Mark Wallinger so her eyes are perpetually shut.

She was always an attractive woman - she had not merely a film star's attractiveness - she could also behave like a film star when she chose to do so
Sir Bernard Ingham

Two white abstracts by Keith Coventry are said to be a particular favourite of Tory former minister Ann Widdecombe, who is reviewing the show for the New Statesman.

One depicts Lady Thatcher with Charles Moore, the Daily Telegraph editor and her official biographer, while the other shows the fallen floors of Brighton's blown-up Grand Hotel.

A spokesman whispers the Telegraph are not attending the exhibition "because they think it is too anti-Thatcher".

But Miss Howard remarks: "Ann Widdecombe liked them. She said they were intelligent and coherent.

"She also rather liked the clown. She said: 'I see what you mean - it's actually rather poignant.'"

  • Thatcher continues at The Blue Gallery, Great Sutton Street, London, EC1, until 17 May.

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