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    prehistoric art

    A neanderthal in agnès b.

    April 24, 2018

    Last week I visited the Neandertal exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. The show was instructive and lively. And reasonably busy, for a Friday morning. There is clearly public interest in our nearest prehistorical kindred. Just why this should be, I’ll hazard a guess at the end of this post.

    There wasn’t too much about parietal art. But I did learn plenty which cast a new light on the eras in which Lascaux, Chauvet and Altamira were created. Perhaps you already knew, but Neanderthals were the first hominid species to bury their dead. Neanderthals and homo sapien interbred and as a result most of us have a slice of their DNA. And given that, it is a disturbing fact that our evolutionary cousins practiced cannibalism.

    At the end of the show we were met by this young woman, the work of French sculptor Elisabeth Daynès. She has the physique of a neanderthal, but the gaze and the expression of a contemporary. More confusing still, she’s dressed in a Parisienne fashion brand, agnès b. In her left hand is a magazine in which she graces the front cover. She’s so smart and upbeat, one is quickly drawn to her. But then since she also looks something less than fully human, one becomes confused and slightly spooked.

    There are any number of neanderthal mannequins in museums around the world. Some of them may be made by Daynès, since that is her artistic focus. But the neanderthals who take their place in your average archaeology display are beetle-browed savages; a world away. But his cave person walks among us, the most stylish individual in sight. This sculptor highlights our common ground. Then leaves it to you to sense your radical difference from this model.

    So how can a major museum sustain a major show on a topic like this? Well, for a start there is a greater interest in prehistory in France. The country has much of the world’s most celebrated cave art. And, I saw for myself that Bookshop Gilbert Joseph, on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, boasts an entire section given over to the Stone Age. But perhaps more than anything, Neandertal fascinates because its subjects are extinct. They are as tragic as dodos, and perhaps more instructive. Hard to imagine a future in which we feature in a museum display, but surely we must hope there is one.

    Neandertal is at the Musée de l’Homme until 7 January 2019.

    prehistoric art

    L’abbé Breuil and Bisonte cigarettes

    April 19, 2018

    Henri Breuil (1877-1961) has been called the father of prehistory. Little known in the UK, he should really take a place alongside Freud, Darwin and Marx as one of the scientists who sent shockwaves through 20th century thought; he changed the way we see our place in the world for good.

    Breuil was a cleric, a scientist, and an artist. His copies of prehistoric parietal art gave the public its first glimpse of subterranean masterpieces aged between 20,000 and 40,000 years, He is reputed to have spent 800 days underground, at sites like Lascaux and Altamira. And he squared the facts of prehistoric life with his Catholic faith, just as he put his gifts as an artist or copyist at the service of his scientific mind.

    Some work was done on the back of a proverbial fag packet. Having spent this week at the archive of the Muséum nationale d’Histoire naturelle, I come away with an uneasy sense that the first draft of prehistory was written on miscellaneous scraps of paper. Breuil threw away nothing and wrote, and drew, on whatever came to hand. But whereas his subjects reached for bone, antler, and rock face, Breuil was happy with recycled calendar pages and wine lists. From time to time, at least.

    Breuil even writes on a literal fag packet (see picture): “Ce qu’on a fait de mon bison d’Altamira!”. In some other words, Zut alors! Look what they’ve done to my Altamira bison! This iconic image, from the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art in Northern Spain, echoes one of Breuil’s own copies. In his lifetime he published some 600 drawings, watercolours, pastels or oils. Plenty of material to inspire a graphic designer. It can be clearly seen that the newfound facts about man’s long history were marketable enough to sell a product with the clear potential to shorten your future.

    Breuil was, by all accounts, a chain smoker. But it is hard to know what he felt about this instance of cultural theft. At least, the cigarette packet, as seen in box BR-7, demonstrates that knowledge percolates out of the academy by unexpected means. And that cave painting, a matter of national pride in Spain upon the discovery of Altamira, is no less likely a marketing hook than the 14m high roadside bull silhouettes which have, since 1957, advertised Sherry in Spain. But this love of the bovine goes way back.

    If this has reminded you of any other marketable reproductions of cave art, please send them through to me at mark [at] criticsimsim [dot] com.

    art blogging

    Q&A: Anna Jaxe

    September 13, 2017

    As a Brighton-based blogger, criticismism is underpaid when compared to millionaire video blogging neighbours like Zoella or PewDiePie. So I’ve been quite curious about the format, and keen to see if the moving selfie can work for art.

    Well, the good news is that it can. As demonstrated ably by Anna Jaxe, whose Creoddity channel on YouTube contains posts with 10,000 or even 20,000 views. Her appreciative audience proves an appetite out there for demystifying the life of an artist, or hers at least.

    I spoke with Jaxe via Skype from her London studio as she prepared for two forthcoming art fairs. 

    criticismism: You’ve showcased plenty of artists on your channel, do you feel you’ve got enough from it for yourself?

    Anna Jaxe: I kind of took a bit of a break from making those videos. I hadn’t realised how much of my life it had taken up. And in that break I’ve started to really focus on my own work. And I think I needed that. But I thought, while I was doing the channel before, that if I was more of a success myself, it would probably mean more for other artists anyway in the future.

    c: Do you still enjoy blogging?

    AJ: Yeah, really. I’ve just started making videos again but it’s very much a side thing. I want to focus on what I’m actually making so, in a way, to show people what I’m doing. I think, to be honest, if I’d seen that when I was 20 or something it probably would have helped me to navigate around where to start being an artist, do you know what I mean? I think in doing this it might help others.

    c: Did you study art?

    AJ: Actually I did most of a degree and then I left in my 3rd year. But there was something about art education that I never really got on with, to be honest. I was never really 100 percent in with it. I can’t really put my finger on why.

    c: The art school crit format sounds quite brutal…

    AJ: That is quite intense, isn’t it. But that’s also the most useful part of it. Because you do get bogged down in your own head. That’s why, making work now, I ask for feedback. It’s too much in a bubble otherwise. But I think it would’ve helped me more to do an internship with an artist or a gallery. If the study was integrated with real life experience it might have helped me more

    c: Just how much hard work is vlogging?

    AJ: It takes over your life. I would say a couple days a week. You have to get an idea for a video and then prep the video and then make the video and edit it and then upload it and you have to also do comments online and then be really active on social media which takes up a lot of time. It’s really two days out of my week and if I wasn’t practically doing something I was thinking about it

    c: Does art need a conversation around it, for example in the blogosphere?

    AJ: That’s an interesting question. I think it’s the same in any creative industry, because I mean theatres have the same thing, don’t they? Music even. People write about those. I just think it’s just inspiring to read how other people think, regardless of whether it’s artwork or an album or a stage production.

    c: No one ever got too intimidated by a record…

    AJ: The whole idea why I’ve wanted to base all my art upon music… It’s because music is there to appeal to the masses, isn’t it? I mean I suppose there are music artists who don’t want to do that. But one song can reach all four corners of the earth and be interpreted in a million different ways. So a musician will build a song to be accessible to lots of different people. Recently people have stopped saying ‘he’ or ‘she’ in mainstream pop music, maybe for that reason, to appeal to more people regardless of sexuality or gender orientation. I think that’s what I like about music.

    c: Can art be too accessible?

    AJ: I don’t think so. I mean, the opposite, for me, of accessible art is the art that people use to better their status. I don’t think there is much good about that.

    c: So why are people drawn to difficult art?

    AJ: I think people buy for status. I mean I might be wrong. I’ve never sold a painting for a ridiculous amount of money. Those people are sometimes advised by other people. It’s a wise investment.

    c: The art market is one thing, but does it govern the structure of the art world?

    AJ: I think I would picture the art world as a hierarchy. But I’m not sure how, if you are on one level, you can change to go on the next level. I wouldn’t say it’s like a ladder; you can start at the bottom and go to the top. You can probably make a living from doing art fairs and stuff like that, but it doesn’t mean you can end up exhibiting at Frieze.

    c: Would you rather sell a painting or show a painting?

    AJ: Show a painting

    c: But you’ve sold recently and met collectors…

    AJ: Yeah,that’s really exciting. Generally I’m quite shy. I don’t enjoy meeting lots of new people. But I’ve found that, when I’ve got my art behind me, I really enjoy the process of meeting people. ‘Cos then they are really open and they just want to ask you questions. Most people have some kind of connection with a music instrument, for example. They can look at a trombone and say, ‘My cousin plays the trombone’. So, however loose it is, they have an instant connection with what’s there.

    Anna Jaxe, aka Creoditty can be found IRL at two forthcoming fairs: Roy’s People Art Fair at Candid Arts Trust, between 14-17 September 2017; and #TRIBE17, the international fair organised by Chrom-Art at the Bargehouse in the OXO Tower; both events are in London.

    video

    Phil Collins, dűnya dinlemiyor (2005)

    August 8, 2017

    Dűnya dinlemiyor is Turkish for The World Won’t Listen, which as you may know is a 1987 compilation album by The Smiths. At the time of release, the world was listening. The album was a chart hit.

    And that was just in the UK. As this work by artist Phil Collins reveals, the sentiment and the message of the album reverberated all the way from Columbia to Indonesia via Turkey.

    The Turkish installation of this epic project was filmed over several days in an Istanbul nightclub, to which fans of The Smiths were invited to sing along with a karaoke backing to the 18 track album.

    Thanks to the efforts of these volunteers, 30 years on, the audience for this work will be able to listen more closely to an album which Morrissey appeared to predict the world would ignore.

    He was loved him all the more for it. And his imitable persona has made the 2,000 mile journey from Manchester for this hour long film. A local, for example, performs with a back pocketful of flowers.

    More interesting than the inevitable Moz impersonators, are the millennials who take part in this exercise with good cheer. There Is A Light That Never Goes is joyous, rather than maudlin.

    In a similar vein, we have a hard rocking version of London and a version of Half A Person which is equally good for a giggle. It’s comedic to be a Turk singing about Euston station or the YWCA.

    When it’s not being funny or being awkward, dűnya dinlemiyor is a moving reprisal of a collection of songs that take one back to the 1980s, via this highly circuitous cultural route.

    The final track on the album, Rubber Ring, features a warning that until now was buried in time: “Don’t forget the songs that made you laugh and the songs that made you cry.”

    The singer is a middle aged goth who gives her all to the final performance of this artwork. Either she can’t let go of the music of The Smiths, or she has moved on and felt the consequences.

    This work can be seen in Now, Today, Tomorrow and Always at Towner, Eastbourne, until October 8 2017. The show is an Arts Council Collection National Partner Exhibition.

    installation art, music

    Mark Leckey, Affect Bridge Age Regression (2017)

    July 18, 2017

    In hypnotherapy, an affect bridge is a way of linking feelings in the present with feelings in the past. But if an affect bridge were a bridge in real life what form would it take?

    Mark Leckey has free associated a bog-standard graffiti strewn motorway crossing. It’s an icon we never knew existed, until we saw the six foot scale model bathed in sodium light here in Cubitt.

    This is a bridge seen at speed from the back seat of an Austin Allegro. You are moving too fast to read all the writing on the sloping walls, although the banks invite you to get out and climb.

    The show allows you to explore the mystery of the humble underpass: what it might mean for both Mark Leckey and any grown adult who drove past a similar vehicle.

    In the gallery, though, it is a sculpture. The eye is led in two separate directions: through and across. It is a cruciform piece, so within the context of Western art, this is a kind of crucifixion.

    The soundtrack is as jubilant as a second coming. Tribal drums underpin a page-long list of elements which the artist wishes to cast “OUT!”.  Leckey recites them like manifesto points.

    It was Kraftwerk who best captured the rhythmic qualities of a motorway. The rhythm in here is as infectious as the sickly golden light. There is a push-pull dynamic as strong as an individual’s past.

    The flatly horizontal bridge begins to resemble an analyst’s couch. This is someone else’s session, a very public session, but this piece transcends the artist’s personal biography, while remaining sincere.

    Affect Bridge Age Regression can be seen at Cubitt, London, until June 30 2017.

    installation art, performance art

    Christopher Gray, The Dumas Complex (2017)

    July 11, 2017

    In recent times, most things have been considered an art. There is, for instance, the art of baking, the art of conversation, and, for sociopaths everywhere, the art of the deal.

    But at J Hammond Projects in North London, one applied art form is proving to have enough legs to endure for the foreseeable future, and even outlive contemporary obsessions with artisanal crafts.

    Painted onto the post of a metre square boxing rink are the three words that could unlock this show for you. Boxing is ‘The Noble Art”. Perhaps more noble, in terms of sacrifice, than art itself.

    Next to the ring is a screen on which two crude hand puppets trade blows. The right hand stalks the left. The left guards its knuckled face. And the artist, to whom the hands belong, looks on.

    Here, as elsewhere within the prison-like confines of this extensive installation, Christopher Gray is in the shadows. So this dogged contest between two puppets is something of a paranoid fantasy.

    One hopes for autonomy in the choice of one’s enemies, but perhaps our creator has other ideas. In another film, in another arena, Gray looks  on while an artist struggles to paint his muse.

    All curves and pneumatic breasts, this is one sexualised model. Her painter on the other hand is  tortured, grave, and as two-fisted as a twelfth round slugger. It ends very badly for him.

    His scream echoes around the gloomy complex of tableaux, puppets and films. It brings us back to perhaps the core subject of the Dumas Complex, pain, hurt, suffering, call it what you will.

    We have long expected artists to suffer. But Gray’s dimly lit structure feels like a torture chamber, cranking up the stakes to reveal that art and organised agony have plenty in common.

    The Dumas Complex can be seen at J Hammond Projects until August 5 2017. Gray has a terrific backstory so see Art Lyst for a revealing interview.

    conservation, contemporary sculpture

    Richard Deacon, Never Mind (1993-2017)

    July 4, 2017
    Courtesy Richard Deacon and Middelheim Museum

    Does a ship replaced beam by beam remain the same vessel? Does a broom with 17 new heads and 14 new handles remain the same broom? Does a refabricated sculpture remain an original?

    Never Mind once looked like a hull. So it is apt that Richard Deacon’s long running artwork be used to illustrate Theseus’s paradox, also now known as the paradox of Trigger’s broom.

    In 1993 it must have been a thing of joy: pristine wood skilfully curved into the shape of a dirigible. The laminate finish reflected the surrounding trees and the sky into which it might have floated.

    Now it looks more Roswell rumour than classical bark. This tells us a little about the digital age which was only just beginning in ’93.  Never Mind was put back together like a jet engine.

    Stainlesss steel has been used for a full-scale replacement forged from notes and measurements. The legs are so polished that the Middelheim landmark really does now appear to float.

    It still looks like it could travel; the unmanned voyage should be good for another 24 years. Will any of us be here in 24 years? Who cares, asks Never Mind. Just marvel at this precise workmanship.

    Legally, at least, it is the same sculpture. Restored and recoated, say Middelheim Museum. A work in progress the catalogue and the app both seem to imply with the dates 1993-2017.

    The art lies in the outline, the gradients, and the precise dimensions rather than the materials. If an object is a displacement and not a thing, that’s one response to the paradox above.

    Never Mind can be seen at Middelheim Museum, Antwerp. Until 24 September it forms part of the Richard Deacon retrospective Some Time.

    contemporary sculpture, kinetic sculpture, performance art

    Chris Burden, Beam Drop Antwerp (2009)

    July 3, 2017

    I once knew a live music review to open with the following line: “Blur used the minimum of props to the maximum of effect. Damon was lowered from the roof in a giant TV set.”

    The author, who was a colleague on the student newspaper I wrote for, accosted me in the bar and read his immortal opening for me. He was proud as punch.  I found it funny as hell.

    Years later I want to paraphrase him and say: Chris Burden has also used the minimum of props to the maximum of effect…fifty steel beams were dropped from a crane into a pit of liquid concrete.

    Because although Beam Drop is an epic, expensive, time-consuming and hazardous production, it is also in essence very simple. It is not far removed from dropping toothpicks into porridge.

    Burden has gone to a whole lot of effort to monumentalise a pastime that a child might engage in. So Beam Drop is a grandiose response to the tired old sentiment, ‘My six year old could do that’.

    Incidentally, there’s not a six year old on the planet who would not have enjoyed the performance of this piece. Your inner child should also respond to the outbreak of controlled violence.

    I want to call Beam Drop harmless. But even eight years on, as the beams turn a plot of sculpture park lawn into a rusting pin cushion, the sight of this piece causes some visual disquiet.

    The materials are industrial. The formation is random. The appearance is out of step with its natural surrounds. Created by a crane rather than a brush, on this scale, the piece appears to lack humanity.

    But given the alternative use for steel girders (a corporate HQ in downtown Antwerp, say), we might decide that the wreckage here in Middelheim is an expression of rebellion and even redemption.

    Beam Drop can be found at Middelheim Museum, Antwertp. Museum website is here.

    performance art, video

    Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, Finding Fanon 2 (2015)

    July 3, 2017

    If you play Grand Theft Auto you may be closer to understanding this piece than me. So far as I gather, both artists have had to play their way into all the footage which accompanies this film.

    There’s not a stolen car in sight, mind you. The duo wear suits, rather than gang attire. They walk and run through lonely citycapes, some Romantic with a capital ‘r’, some apocalyptic with a small ‘a’.

    Finding Fanon 2 grabs you from the opening set up as avatars for both artists fall to earth from a clear blue sky. They pedal limbs like upturned beetles, pick themselves up again like gods.

    If this film were nothing more than a travelogue about virtual cities to be found in the GTA game franchise, it would already have a certain novel, uncanny appeal for non-gamers.

    But there’s much more to it; the quest here  is not to become a crime lord, but to get closer to an understanding of philosopher Frantz Fanon, who advocated armed resistance to power.

    As a former resident of Martinique and a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front, Fanon was most interested in fighting back against colonial powers. Britain is no longer one of these.

    So where might Fanon, who died in 1961, be found now? Nigel Farage might have said he would don khaki and pick up a rifle in order to fight for Brexit. But the UK left is using ballots rather than bullets.

    The battlefield is the media, both mainstream and social. Dark money and big data are the dangers. So where indeed is Fanon today? He would doubtless be on a terror watchlist.

    But the artists remain optimistic. “Perhaps he’s waiting here,” says the VO, as they stride through the ghost town, “behind the polygons, behind the texture maps, through the fields of algorithms”.

    Fanon might be found in one of GTA’s beautiful sunsets. Achiampong and Blandy watch our fiery star sink below the horizon. If the sun has sunk on Fanon’s day, we know it will come again.

    Finding Fanon Trilogy was screened at Lighthouse in Brighton on 29 June 2017. More information about the artists can be found on the websites of David and Larry.

    art market, contemporary art, fiction, literature

    Literary pictures: two art world novels and their authors

    June 7, 2017

    When it comes to the world of contemporary art, it can be difficult for a journalist to paint the people and the parties in their true colours. So perhaps it is unsurprising, given the suspension of disbelief required by the market and the legal protection afforded by fiction, that the most convincing picture of the art world has, in recent years, come from novelists rather than critics.

    This piece considers two historical novels about the art world which capture life in New York, and in London, at the times when art in each of these cities was booming. The first considers NYC just as the 80s were taking off and is the work of poet and filmmaker Richard Dailey.

    Dailey’s book, Unplugged Yellow, borrows its title from the painting of an artist called FleX, who destroys himself. His prodigious talent comes with prodigious appetite for drugs; and the author captures both the wealth and squalor of life on the cusp of artistic fame. Dailey’s narrator has a voice as attitudinal as a punk from CBGBs, and as poised as a model from Studio54.

    And yet, Unplugged Yellow goes beyond the clichés surrounding either of those scenes. It delivers the excitement of great painting, by introducing a cast of living characters, rather than long dead local colour. (FleX is crazy about astrology, rather than the French symbolists feted at St Marks. He ends his days in the Mali desert rather than a cold water commune.) The book is at once plausible, and highly original.

    Dailey made time, before a reading at KGB in New York, to talk via Skype about his book. My first question was about his whereabouts in 1979 and 1980, the years in which his fiction is set. “I was there,” he tells me. “I was not an artist. I was a poet and I worked with a number of artists, either writing for them, incorporating my poetry in their works and hanging out.”

    He recalls a time when, “Basquiat was still sleeping in Thompson Square Park in a cardboard box”. This was New York before the money hit, when a duplex apartment could be found for just $300 a month, jobs were plentiful and the living was cheap. “It was a nice time,” recalls Dailey. “Everybody had this vague dream of making it, but nobody really had much sense of what that meant”.

    FleX is inspired by a real life painter who committed suicide (“Nobody remembers him”) and Dailey notes the passing of a generation of artists and critics from his chosen milieu who’ve already been overlooked by the history books. It makes this historic novel more urgent. The amnesia can be part blamed on the injustices of capitalism and of the art market in particular.

    “There’s an abstract quality to both money and art,” says the author. Without the faith in something called art, a painting is worthless, he suggests. And without custom and convention, even loo roll is worth more than pound sterling. “Either you believe or you don’t,” he says, unsurprised that the two investment vehicles get “confused and mixed up,” because, “of course, art is an investment”.

    So Unplugged Yellow is perhaps more interested in money than artistic content. Dailey has said he intends it to be “a real meditation on the collector, and the role of the collector, and the psychology of the collector.” At the same time he notes it is a love story, which widens his audience. Civilians that most of us are, perhaps we can relate to the collector better than the artist.

    I also learn that, having been there on the Lower East Side at the time in which his unfolding story is set, Dailey came under great pressure from publishers to write it differently. “They were like, just turn this into your memoir, turn it into a real memoir and give us some photographs please.” Lucky for us, the author was stubborn, and this gem of a book is the result.

    In the same month Unplugged Yellow came to my attention, I read another, more or less nostalgic, historical art world novel. This was Randall by Jonathan Gibbs: the result of a doctorate from UEA, the first and perhaps best of the many universities who now offer courses in Creative Writing. Unlike Bailey, Gibbs was not quite ‘there’ in the milieu he describes. But like many who remember the 1990s on these shores, this journalist and novelist grew to be fascinated by the Young British Artists.

    Let’s first state the obvious. Randall (or to give the book its alternative title, The Painted Grape) is about Damien Hirst. And never mind the fact that a character called Damien Hirst is killed off in a train crash near to the start of this rollicking novel. We meet the eponymous main character as a Jack the lad and we soon discover his genius for marketing that most spurious of commodities, contemporary art. More enjoyable still is the chance to spend time in with Randall and his court. No, Gibbs wasn’t there, but if neither were you, you’d think he could have been.

    With impressive powers of imagination, the author ushers us into pubs, squats, country houses and, of course, galleries in the magnetic company of the eponymous Randall. But our narrator is no hipster, rather he is junior banker Vincent, who falls in with these young upcoming artists and becomes for them a talisman. While the narrative here is strong and the characters painted with warmth, Gibbs is also highly interested in what it means to look at art. Several memorable pages are devoted to a somewhat painful attempt, by this narrator, to commune with the Rothkos at the old Tate Museum.

    “I’ve never really had any proper contacts in the art world,” Gibbs tells me via Skype from London. Instead he encountered the yBas as a young Shoreditch gallery goer in the 1990s, and shored up his impressions with research about the art market. So he excuses his lack of first hand experience with a laudable get out clause: “Because my narrator is an insider, but not an artist and not a critic, I felt that was my camouflage to pretend to get close to it all”

    Writing about this movement in later life, Gibbs tells me, “I was a bit more critical about the art and I was a bit more cynical abut myself”. The result is a mixture of autobiography and wish fulfilment as Vincent lives the dream of any twenty-something in London at the time. For the first time in the UK, art was as hip as music and Randall is the story of a generation who relocated to the capital in the years leading up to Cool Britannia.

    But Gibbs is not only interested in the way artists create and viewers gaze. Like Unplugged Yellow, Randall is a fierce attack on the market and the instant monetisation of fashionable art. “What was so clever about that whole scene,” Gibbs says of the yBas, “is that it made itself appeal to young urban professionals, while at the same time having an entirely different set of conversations with the dealers and the collectors and people like that. They got to have their cake and eat it”.

    Since conceptual art went mainstream with the yBas, Randall is concerned with a quite different art form as compared with Unplugged Yellow. The painted grape on the title page refers to a legendary  contest between ancient Greek painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius. Zeuxis painted grapes so realistic that birds flew down to peck at them. Parrhasius painted an illusionistic curtain, which in turn fooled Zeuxis into thinking the work was concealed behind. When Gibbs tells me about Ekphrasis, this is surely what he means: art “as a rhetorical exercise” according to Wikipedia.

    “That’s the whole thing about conceptual art,” he concludes. “It doesn’t take very much to imagine it. If I say ‘a shark in a tank’, your idea of that is going to be pretty close to the experience of being in the room and looking at it.”

    To read either of these books has little in common with going to a gallery. Nor do the encounters with Randall or FleX bear strong comparison with a meeting with a real life artist in 2017. Art has become an alibi for writing a pair of vivid novels which are at once historical documents, critiques of capitalism, travelogues and love stories. They surely do for London and New York what Michel Houellebecq does for Paris in his celebrated art world novel, The Map and the Territory – and that won the Prix Goncourt.

    Dailey tells me he’s read this book twice in French and that he is a great fan, but he cant resist a chance to gossip. “Did you see Houellbecq’s show?” he asks me, referring to his art exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in 2016. “Honestly, it was just awful! But you know, good for him. He’s a writer.”

    Unplugged Yellow by Richard Dailey is a limited edition, available from Opium Books, price $40; Randall by Jonathan Gibbs is available from Galley Beggar Press, price £7.70.