Since the 90s the world of fine art has been polluted by the aspirations and needs of architects and their fussy handmaidens, interior designers. The concept of the reputable architect is about as meaningful as the concept of the reputable drug dealer and their influence on art - unlike that of drug dealers - has been entirely negative. Craftsmen (and women) who convince themselves that they're creative lead us down the path towards poverty, decadence, and madness. Two aspects of art as furniture as architecture as art are currently on display on Britannia Street, a previously insignificant backstreet in London's Kings Cross district.
Kings Cross has a reputation in junkie rock band circles for being the place to go if you arrive in London with no connection and the urgent need to score. I once lived in a flat on Kings Cross Road, half a minute's wall from Britannia Street, in a house where the other occupants were a busker who worked the underground walkways of the nearby Tube station, a luscious lipped teenage Israeli boy called Uri who was avoiding military service back home (but providing other services in London), a malodorous Sydney Greenstreet-lookalike mini-cab driver, and a French-Vietnamese girl, maybe 16 years old, thin and beautiful as bone china, who worked as a hooker. I've never walked down Kings Cross Road late at night without encountering a prostitute of one sort or another. I once saw a guy being serially knifed by a gang of crack dealers about a hundred yards from the spot where Britannia Street meets Kings Cross Road.
Quite a location, then, for the celebrated international Gagosian Gallery chain - the Starbucks of the art world - to establish their flagship London outpost. Since opening on Britannia Street they've played their part in pulling the focus of the money-making London art scene away from gilded Mayfair and the wild shores of Hoxton (where reside all the architecture assholes who imagine that they're artists and many of the drug dealers or art dealers whom they give their money to).
Last week Gagosian threw a "party" for a show of dead pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's sculptures and I went along. I'd arranged to meet art expert Michael Murphy there and arrived a little late and stoned. Michael said that there was another opening on at the same time in another gallery on the same street. If he wasn't in one place, he said, he'd be in the other.
The Lichtenstein sculptures were fascinating experiments in space, perspective, and illusion, sometimes achieving a shimmering 3D effect. Expensive furniture artifacts for loft and townhouse residents, they came across as knowingly commercial work, artfully strewn across Gagosian's expansive painted-white space. In ten minutes I got the idea; these were good, easy on the eye, slightly dated and So What? Art as furniture.
None of the attendees were clutching glasses in their hands - drink was not being served. "Ah!" I said to myself, "Small wonder there's no sign of Murphy. No doubt he quit this scene in high dudgeon when he saw there was no booze on offer."
Gagosian punters could certainly afford their own drink (chauffeured limos filled the sidewalk in front of the gallery) but it was bad form on a hotter-than-Riyadh evening not to offer so much as a sip of San Pellegrino.
I was sure Murphy would be at the other place so I went looking for what turned out to be Kenny Schachter's ROVE where a group show was, parasitically, opening the same time as Gagosian's latest. ROVE even had a leggy babe working the sidewalk handing out flyers to putative Gagosian clients.
ROVE had the air of a graduate show or squat gallery about it and I reckoned, correctly, that Murphy wouldn't have lingered there either. Apparently the space won't always look so ad hoc because, according to a press release, this first show takes place "prior to an architectural intervention" by artist turned architect Vito Acconci whose text/photo works, dating from the late 1960's onwards, reminiscent of the Brion Gysin/William Burroughs scrapbooks, are on display. Acconci already designed the interior of Kenny Schachter's conTEMPorary gallery in New York.
Crates of beer awaited attendees but I rarely drink anything stronger than mineral water unless there's Krug or Dom Perignon on offer.
ROVE showcased an astutely mixed bag of high quality edgy work in a variety of disciplines. Danish furniture designer Mathias Bengtsson's chairs were scattered throughout. Two armchairs, which looked like ideal locations for getting blow jobs, caught my attention. Since there was nobody around suitable to make an oral intervention, I didn't get the chance to put theory into practice.
At Gagosian a dreadlocked security guy (there were six Nubian oppressors working the opening) asked me not to touch the sculptures when he caught me tapping them to se what they were made out of. At ROVE they had little notes attached to the sex chairs asking people not to sit in them. It seems that, to take full advantage of furniture as art, you've got to pay first. You always have to pay for your pleasure around Kings Cross.
(image: Bruce Weber)
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.