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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 12th September 2004

Tracey Pulls It Off


Congratulations to Tracey Emin. The gifted provocateur has succeeded in duping the Tate Gallery into buying eight of her "paintings" and putting them on display in their own special room. Only a tiny handful of British artists have been deemed worthy of this honour--a list that includes such luminaries as Constable, Turner and Blake.

How on earth has Tracey pulled off such a masterful stroke? Until now, I've always thought of her as a media performance artist who's transparently awful work was designed to show up the admirers of Brit Art as a bunch of credulous fashion victims. What other explanation could there be for trying to pass off her unmade bed as a work of conceptual genius?

But this latest ruse catapults Tracey into a different league. By persuading the Tate Gallery that her latest daubs should be ranked alongside the greatest works of art this country has ever produced, this superb satirist has demonstrated that the entire artistic establishment is rapidly disappearing up its own bottom.

In an inspired move, Tracey hit upon the wheeze of pretending that, like so many Young British Artists, she's been galvanised by the Iraq War to produce a series of "political" paintings. Thus, she's launched a blistering attack on Margaret Thatcher, making a completely bogus analogy between the current situation in the Middle East and the Falklands Campaign.

In one "work", for instance, she attacks the former Prime Minister for declaring war on Argentina in 1982. "You cruel heartless bitch," declares the canvas. "I hate women like you."

Incredibly, the powers-that-be at the Tate have been completely taken in by this bilge. Tracey's recently-discovered left-wing convictions have persuaded the Gallery that she's "matured" and her work now deserves to be taken even more seriously than it has been in the past.

Perhaps what tipped the balance was her inclusion of a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Tracey is so practised at hoodwinking these pretentious nincompoops she knows that the best way to persuade them that she's an "authentic" artist is to pose as a member of the lumpen proletariat. For instance, one of her new paintings includes the telltale phrase: "The worse I could do is betraye." Only someone who's spent his entire life in an ivory tower, like the director of the Tate Gallery, would imagine that such mistakes are typically "working class".

It's hard to imagine how Tracey could top this. But, then again, I never thought she'd improve on her previous coup: winning the Turner Prize by buying a tent from Millets and scrawling the names of all the people she'd ever slept with on it.

The only way I can envisage Tracey surpassing this latest bit of mischief is if she persuades the Munsch Gallery of Norway to fill the space left by the theft of "The Scream" with one of her own canvases. Perhaps she could substitute the famous figure on the bridge with a drawing of an Iraqi child fleeing from an American tank.

I wouldn't put it past her. This incredibly talented woman is clearly capable of anything.

The Dumbest Show on Earth

As a theatre critic, I often have to sit through some pretty dreadful rubbish, but few things have been as awful as Dumb Show, a new play by Joe Pennal at the Royal Court. A 90-minute three-hander starring Douglas Hodge, Anna Maxwell Martin and Rupert Graves, Dumb Show is a vitriolic attack on the tabloid press. In scene-after-scene, a couple of red top journalists are "exposed" for being less committed to the truth than they claim to be. Incredibly, their invocation of the "public interest" is revealed as being a fig leaf to justify their intrusion into the private lives of celebrities.

Doesn't Joe Pennal realise that almost every London theatregoer already shares this point of view? Wouldn't it have been more a lot more courageous, not to mention intellectually taxing, to write a play that actually defended the tabloids? In the past, left-wing theatres like the Royal Court have prided themselves on staging plays that challenge the assumptions of their middle class audiences. These days, they seem happy to simply hold up a mirror to the educated bourgeoisie, reassuring them that all their prejudices are completely justified.

Moore? Enough Already

You have to take your hat off to Michael Moore. When it comes to mealy-mouthed hypocrisy, he has no equal.

Last week he published an article on his website entitled "Why I Will Not Seek A Best Documentary Oscar". His reasons were two-fold, he explained.

First, he wants to remove any obstacle to Fahrenheit 9/11 being shown on American television before the Presidential election. Academy rules exclude any documentaries that have been broadcast on TV less than nine months after their theatrical release and he wants his documentary to be seen by as many people as possible because "if Kerry wins, Fahrenheit 9/11 will be one of the top three reasons for his election".

Second, he wants to give his fellow documentary-makers a shot at winning an Oscar themselves--something they wouldn't have if his film was in contention since it's such a "sure bet". "Sometimes," he explains, "it's good for your soul to give up something everyone says is so easily yours."

In fact, the real reason he hasn't submitted Fahrenheit 9/11 for a Best Documentary Oscar is to improve his chances in the much more prestigious category of Best Picture. If his film was eligible for both awards, the possibility of it winning Best Picture would be slim, but if the only way members of the Academy can express their admiration for Fahrenheit 9/11 is to vote for it to win Best Picture, Michael Moore might well pick up the ultimate prize at next year's Oscars.

Bad Title

I was heartened to learn that a therapist who specialises in counselling bereaved children has written a book to help people deal with the loss of a parent. As someone who's lost both his mother and his father, I might well go out and buy this book myself.

However, I can't help feeling that the book's author, Shelley Gilbert, might have come up with a better title. I've written a fair few headlines in my time and I'm all for plays on movie titles, but something a little more dignified might have been appropriate. She's chosen to call it Grief Encounter.

Stag Night Disaster

Pity poor Kashif Iqbal. The 25-year-old restaurateur was all set to marry Syema Rasul, the daughter of one of the richest Asians in Britain, until his prospective bride's father decided to send a private detective to Dubai to spy on his week-long stag celebrations. When the detective reported back, Mr Rasul decided to cancel the wedding.

Still, at least Kashif can take comfort from the fact that his stag do was a great deal of fun. My own stag night in Marbella was so tame that my future father-in-law could have tagged along and not found a single thing to object to.

Of the 10 friends who'd agreed to attend, five didn't show up, including my best man. I'd been promised a tour of the city's fleshpots by a character who claimed to know Marbella like the back of his hand, but he got a text from an ex-girlfriend who was having dinner round the corner and decided to spend the evening with her instead. I ended up in an empty disco staring into the bottom of a glass.

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