March 21, 2014
A love letter to Jeremy Deller and his English Magic @William Morris Gallery
|We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold (2014)
I’m going to come clean. I’ve had an art crush on Jeremy Deller, if not since he won the Turner Prize in 2004, then at least since I saw his retrospective at the Hayward in 2012. He’s an artist with no formal training, who neither draws, paints nor sculpts, and he makes art that can’t be sold. Take that, Messrs Emin and Hirst. And his English Magic, on now at the William Morris Gallery (and then touring the UK) was commissioned by the British Council for the British Pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale 2013. A pied piper of popular culture, he creates what might be termed social interventions, part razor-sharp commentary, part wry and witty quip, part utopian fantasy.
The William Morris was the home of one of the founding fathers of the Labour Movement. Morris plays a key role in Deller’s exhibition, in Stuart Sam Hughes’ centrepiece mural We sit starving amidst our gold (2013), the title a quote from one of Morris’ socialist pamphlets, which are shown here alongside the work.
The painting references a 2011 incident when the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich anchored his yacht in the Giardini quay in Venice, in front of the park where the Biennale is held, restricting the use of the promenade for ordinary folk. Taking revenge on corrupt capitalism everywhere, a colossal Morris tips Abramovich’s yacht into the ocean. This act is shown alongside privatisation certificates and coupons from the era following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when men like Abramovich accumulated their wealth, as deceit, pyramid and Ponzi schemes flourished.
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