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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
The Brits and modern art
Damien Hirst's work: "It hits you in the stomach"
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

When pop queen Madonna was revealed as the presenter of this year's Turner Prize for contemporary art no one was less surprised than BBC arts correspondent Rosie Millard.

"It's the ultimate symbiosis of a high art aesthetic and pop culture," she says.

Madonna performs
Madonna will present this year's Turner Prize in December
Ms Millard's conviction in the reversal of fortune of contemporary British art has led to her book The Tastemakers.

But even in conversation, she can trot out numerous examples to support her theory.

In 2000, there was the advert for Young's Bitter - a direct spoof on one of Damien Hirst's animals in formaldehyde.

Many restaurants now think nothing of hanging contemporary art in their establishments, while home interiors store Habitat sells products designed by contemporary artists.


When Ms Millard asked passers-by for an on-the-spot survey if they could name a living UK artist, they all could, even though the names that kept cropping up were Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Tate Modern
Tate Modern: Incredibly popular with the public
This pair - the most prominent of the original wave of Young British Artists (YBAs) - have opened the public's eyes to the contemporary art world, she says.

"If people can name only them it's OK. It implies a knowledge that something is happening and you can look further."

The thing that makes these artists so acceptable is the immediacy and ease of their work, thinks Ms Millard.

But she would not want a Hirst in her own home.

"It just would not work," she says, adding she prefers artist Gary Hume.

"I am a bit of a colourist and I adore his work. I would love a big splashy piece by him," she says.


She believes the UK public should be taking advantage of the increasing number of free contemporary art galleries.

Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst: Well-established in the public psyche
Most, such as Tate Modern, are London based.

But the Walsall Gallery in the Midlands does a roaring trade, while galleries in Gateshead and Liverpool also look set to do well.

But for all her excitement over contemporary UK art, Ms Millard remains philosophical about its longevity.

"Madonna handing over the Turner Prize is the pinnacle. Contemporary art will never go back to the way it was but it can't go on at this rate.

"The baton needs to be handed on. It will probably go to designers who have taken on named individuality, like Nigel Coates.

"Notions of taste will carry on and perhaps the excitement of the creative world will next go to theatre and film."

See also:

13 Aug 01 | Arts
Emin defends her art
23 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Shock art hits London
11 May 01 | Arts
London's 'cathedral of cool'
25 Apr 01 | Arts
Emin's new show gets personal
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