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The New Conservatism: Complicity and the UK Art World's Performance of Progression


#1

Following the global financial crisis of 2008, a seemingly worldwide lurch towards conservatism, authoritarianism and xenophobia has seen many a journalist cast the opening of the twenty-first century as a potential repetition of the twentieth. But, while heads of state in the East and West push the world towards a situation conceivable as socio-political history repeating, there is another field in which current activity bears little resemblance to its twentieth century counterpart: the field of contemporary art.

Although the Avant-garde iconoclasms and ontological shocks of the early twentieth-century (Dada, Cubism, Futurism, etc.) were enacted by the bourgeoisie for the bourgeoisie, mostly excluded people of colour and women, and embraced reactionary thinking and proto-fascism, artists were arguably experiencing an unprecedented period of relative aesthetic and personal freedom. This liberatory moment produced work that would fundamentally break with epistemological and existential regimes of the past to ultimately set art on its course beyond Modernism to the more expansive grounds of the contemporary.

Today, despite a passion for the vocabulary of change amongst those who populate the art world’s upper echelons, and a conceptual belief in ‘rupture’, ‘paradigm shift’, and ‘the turn’, radical alteration of the field, and the concrete and cognitive institutions that comprise it – galleries, museums, art criticism, notions of best practice, etc. – has not taken place. It is true demographic gains have been made since the first few decades of the twentieth century. However, the cost of limited access for people of colour, women and the working class (extracted through a subtle process of enculturation imperceptible to some) has frequently been the relinquishment of power. It is a general rite of passage that extends beyond the historically marginalised to any artists or arts professionals who could pose a threat to the established order of things, and its prohibitory effect grows in proportion to an individual’s closeness to money, power and the establishment – a process in which the royal honours system represents the summit, or final degree of ascension.

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This state of affairs has facilitated a massive transference of power from artists to institutions, from the grass roots to the establishment, and from community groups to highly professionalised and internetworked charitable organisations. The result in the UK is an art world whose only steady, top-down movement seems increasingly to be towards the absorption and neutralization of aberrant forces, and the consolidation of its own regressive institutional influence over what may be considered art or legitimate arts derived activity.

I have previously argued that the cause of this progression has been a growing identification with the 1%, seen through capitulation to the explicit or imagined whims of private finance (philanthropy, corporate sponsorship, etc.), and in turn the adoption of such practices due to institutional isomorphism – the state of inter-institutional influence in which organisations seeking entry to, or the elevation of status within, a given professional sphere mimic the formal procedures and structures of established organisations that set the bar for legitimacy within their sector. These factors play a significant role in the UK art world’s current condition, but they are part of a larger system of thought, practice and procedure – adopted by mid to top-tier museums and galleries, professionalised charitable organisations, philanthropic foundations, media outlets, private limited companies and those wishing to operate within them – that is best explained as the new conservatism.

Although an obvious symptom of neoliberalism, the new conservatism is not a formally acknowledged school of thought. The umbrella term is employed here as a useful shorthand tool to unify and refer to a set of ideas and behaviours whose effects contribute to the following three things: the aforementioned identification with and capitulation to private finance; the reinforcement and creation of an ideologically and demographically homogeneous art world; and a sector tacitly in step with state power’s agenda of using culture as a decoration for and tactic to divert attention from the human fallout of destructive government policy. These behaviours, whether consciously or unconsciously executed, help to minimize the potential risks to institutional profit, reputation, and sustainability that radical change presents.

What makes this new conservatism different from overtly rightist or self-consciously traditionalist forms is that it advances its agenda surreptitiously by presenting itself as forward thinking, inclusive and socially conscious. This hypocrisy largely goes unchecked, because to the cursory eye most progressive, politicised, altruistic or critically engaged attitudes within the art world may seem to be adopted without contradiction. But by taking a closer look at public procedures, or applying a detailed approach to scrutinizing accounts and correspondence, it is possible to uncover evidence of professional practices that undermine progression, or benefit from the same oppressive structures and exploitative logics that many artists, arts professionals, and a large proportion of the general public are either fighting against, or oppressed by.

What is crucial if the practice, presentation and evaluation of art are to have a fighting chance at radical progression in the twenty-first century (in whatever form that might take) is a redress in the balance of power, and the restoration of a workable equilibrium that includes a grass roots of equal or greater strength than its now dominant new conservative counterpart – an entity that cannot and will not support attempts to alter its restrictive structural, interpersonal and epistemological parameters.

This moderate goal is not as daunting or impossible to enact as it may seem. Although artists and arts professionals operating in this age of rampant deregulation, privatisation, and race to the bottom tax breaks (i.e. neoliberalism), might understandably feel totally unable to effect change in the wider world, doing so within their own field is both feasible and entirely possible. This is because the system (that is the art world) is totally dependent on their participation in it to survive. By simply withdrawing their affective labour, their cultural and symbolic capital, their work from circulation within exploitative inter-institutional networks, artists and arts professionals could reclaim that power and finally torch the tired myth that moral or political compromise is always, at some level, the fundamental structural inevitability of creative practice.

In sharp contrast to conspicuous or performed individual withdrawals – self-conscious breaks that serve to strengthen an absentees position in, or prepare the way for their return to, the very system a temporary act of rebellion was staged to undermine – collective targeted refusals to work with or for new conservative organisations would mean that same work could be used to grow and bolster another sector, a truly egalitarian and diverse grass roots, ground-up, minor (or whatever other term you want to use for a non-establishment, non-high finance aligned) movement whose bottom line was progression and support, not profit and its almost unavoidable corollary, exploitation. In support of such a movement, the purpose of this text is threefold: to show how the new conservatism operates so that its activity might be rightly identified as such and avoided; to track how values and institutional behaviours it supports became hegemonic; and to highlight artists, arts professionals and organisations whose works indicate a burgeoning alternative to that hegemony.

There are a number of lifestyle choices and professional procedures through which the new conservatism, when followed by individuals and institutions, capitulates to private finance, cultivates homogeneity, and works in the service of state power. But the best place to begin a survey of how it operates is with one of the most dominant and paradigmatic corporations in the field. It is an organisation whose octopoid reach spreads to criticism, curation, commissions, sales, acquisitions and much more. Its name is Denmark Street Limited (DSL).

Incorported in 2015, DSL is probably unfamiliar to most. This is because it is what is known as a parent company – an organisation set up to be the primary owner of subsidiary businesses for the purposes of (according to accountant Raj Bairoliya) ‘asset protection, tax efficiency or confidentiality purposes’. DSL is the parent company of Frieze, or more specifically it is the parent company of the two explicitly for-profit companies (Frieze Events Limited and Frieze Publications) in the organisation’s distributed, tripartite portfolio. The third business is what is known as a special purpose vehicle – a single-objective company that according to PricewaterhouseCoopers allows ‘large corporations to meet specific objectives by way of obtaining finances, transferring risk and performing specific investment opportunities’. It is named Frieze Public Programmes, and on accounts evidence has been setup to receive income from one source: Arts Council England.

Although DSL (owned by Matthew Slotover, Emily King, Amanda Sharp, and IMG Worldwide) is the parent company of Frieze Events and Frieze Publications, and undoubtedly benefits from Frieze Public Programmes (in the form of financial yields from ticket sales and increases to intangible assets like overall Frieze brand value and perceived financial viability), it is not based in the same country as any of them. DSL is based in the offshore tax haven of Jersey, a British Crown dependency described by journalist Nicholas Shaxson as an island ‘with no political parties and a government utterly captured by the financial services industry’. With its owners based in London, New York and Delaware, DSL is, then, an offshore private company that has in all likelihood been set up in an island haven hundreds of miles away for one purpose: ‘tax efficiency’, or (to quote the 1936 Duke of Westminster ruling) for the arrangement of its financial affairs ‘so that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be’. In other words corporate tax avoidance, one of the major contributors to capital flight, the impoverishment of the public sector, and the widening gap between rich and poor in this country. Of course DSL may or may not be involved in the entirely legal practice corporate tax avoidance. However, to do so would be in keeping with current neoliberal company tendencies at Frieze, like its penchant for maximizing private sector profits (its own and other companies) through utilising public funds. A prime example of such activity was the organisation’s ‘page and screen’ project.

A 2015 initiative staged to explore ‘how art criticism can translate into the medium of video,’ Frieze’s ‘page and screen’ scheme used ACE support to reduce its own expenditure on the production of content. Three regular contributors were each offered the chance to direct a video and develop an essay as part of the project, which had (according to Frieze publishing’s Grants for the arts application) an overall cost of £50,440, with £15,000 supplied by ACE. Each of the writers was to be paid £1,000 in total, £500 for a video and £500 for an accompanying essay. Other costs were listed as £12,528 for marketing, £424 for editing (texts), £5,458 for project management, and £2,025 for a public event; while the sum of £27,005 (approximately £9,000 per film) went to production company Pundersons Gardens for costs including ‘equipment, travel and specialist personal [sic]’. What this inventory of outgoings illustrates is Frieze’s use of public money to fund a project where approximately 94% of expenditure went toward increasing the tangible or intangible profits of private companies (that of it’s own and Pundersons Gardens).

This use of public money to boost private profits is at issue here, given Frieze publishing lists its income for 2014 (or the last financial year) in the GFTA application at £2,132,674, an astronomical sum that must include income from Frieze Events. Taken alone the profit and loss accounts of Frieze publishing stand in sharp contrast to those of its closest sector rival Art Review. Both publications produce fairly similar in-house content and are ultimately based in offshore havens (Art Review is a subsidiary of parent company Art View Limited, registered in Gibraltar), but the crucial difference is in the finance.

In 2015 Frieze publishing registered a profit of £511,714 (all figures according to accounts submitted to Companies House), while Art Review registered a loss of £167,875. For the sake of comparison Aesthetica Magazine registered a profit of £1,493, Art Monthly a loss of £93,754. It should be said that the complete details of profit and loss totals for small companies (i.e. those that do not earn more than £10 million per year) aren’t published and so the full story behind the numbers, the apparent losses (which may not be losses) and gains (which may not be gains) can, to an extent, lay beyond the figures. However, on the face of the numbers set out in the above publications’ respective 2015 accounts, Frieze is the most anomalously profitable magazine in the UK. The point is that it had no discernible need of financial assistance. Especially when that assistance amounted to three percent of its half a million profits in that year. What, then, compelled the organisation to ask? What compelled ACE to fund?

In place of the principle that in addition to artistic and cultural merit, access to public funds should be dependant, to a large extent, on clear and demonstrable need, both the request and subsequent funding of ‘page and screen’ seem to have operated in line with the commercial logic of the mutually beneficial partnership. Frieze produced content at what could have been zero cost, and by securing public funding again demonstrated their distinction from other commercial initiatives (fairs, magazines, galleries) unable to do so. ACE continued one of its model public-private partnerships with a commercial institution that perhaps perfectly demonstrates the ideal commitment to producing both profit and significant cultural contributions to the UK’s soft-power portfolio.

Mutually beneficial partnerships are part of a wider strategic culture that strengthens and reinforces the spread of new conservatism, and subsequently impedes progressive development. If we define strategic culture in the art world as a set of institutional procedures and behaviours that facilitate the progression of favoured and low-risk individuals, practices and ideas, then we can also identify homogeneity as an inevitable outcome. In her recent book ‘When Attitudes Become the Norm’ Slovene art historian and theorist Beti Zerovc argues that in the 1990s ‘the practice of curation underwent an intense process of professionalisation’. This occurred precisely at the moment that the art world increasingly required ambiguous figures who specialized in building bridges between critically engaged art (including the toothless practice of institutional critique) and private finance, individuals she describes as capable of ‘acting not only as an agent of change but, even more, as an agent of neutralisation’.

Performing this function is now pervasive. Consider the corporate backed Art Night 2017 (supported by auction houses Phillips and Dorotheum, and private Swiss bank Lombard Odier) with its cod-liberatory entreaty, voiced by curator Fatos Ustek, for attendees to ‘join us on the streets [to] celebrate the differences that make us’ despite fielding a programme that included no British Asian, black, or discernably white working class artists; or new ICA director Stefan Kalmar’s desire to create an ‘organization that takes risks [and] challenges the status quo’, whilst hosting events like its exclusive annual ‘friends of’ dinner, sponsored by fashion house Lanvin, in honour of alleged Tory supporter Bryan Ferry, with music supplied by Isaac one of Bryan’s four Eton educated sons. At the institutional level, consider how the anti-racist sentiment in curators Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whiteley’s much trumpeted celebration of art in the age of Black Power ‘Soul of a Nation’ is profoundly undermined by the funds Tate received from Leonard Blavatnik towards the eponymous gallery extension opened in 2016. The Ukranian billionaire also gave $1 million to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, a president favoured by the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and White Nationalists, who many feel has done much to legitimize and embolden the far right, and is expected to do considerable harm to race relations in America during his term.

The new conservatism pitches these behaviours and linkages as the necessary and negligible price to pay for art. As a result the bridging myth endures as a fixture of best practice and institutional common sense. It operates as an ideological filter that contributes to and ensures sector homogeneity: those who are happy to embrace its logic progress; those who are not seldom do. 1992 is an important year in this regard. In politics, Tory MP Norman Lamont introduced the Private Finance Initiative; the flagship public private partnership (PPP) policy enabling contracted private firms to manage public infrastructure projects (hospitals, schools, rail contracts, etc.), a venture significantly increased during New Labour’s ’97-2010 tenure. In the art world Frieze began publishing, and the Royal College of Art’s Curating Contemporary Art MA was launched under the directorship of Teresa Gleadowe. Politicians set the PPP climate that would spread to and inform an increasingly private positive UK art world, and institutions like Frieze and Gleadowe’s CCA produced arts professionals, curators and directors trained to navigate and accept its logic, however grudgingly, but not to question or dismantle it – a sample of current directors who went through this trajectory includes Sam Thorne at Nottingham Contemporary, Sarah McCrory at Goldsmiths Gallery, Polly Staple at Chisenhale, Sally Tallant at Liverpool Biennial, Francesco Manacorda at Tate Liverpool, and Helen Legg at Spike Island.

While there is not enough space here to map all the internecine links between arts organisations in the UK (a network forged through personal and professional relationships, inter-organisation board memberships, and cross-institutional career progression), the trend is growing. For example Plus Tate, an initiative launched in 2010, links UK-wide institutions to Tate gallery in order to produce ‘a powerful group enabling new collaboration and change’. The roster of Plus Tate galleries (including five of the six listed in the previous paragraph) has now swelled to a near sector wide thirty-four (of which none are headed by British Black, South or East Asian directors).

Although collaboration and data sharing undoubtedly take place, the by-product of the initiative has also been the creation of a large inter-institutional, closed network. Typically the benefits of such phenomena are that members find movement easier within a unit whose identity is based on standardized professional practices, shared norms, and values they themselves establish. Detrimental effects include the reduced potential for dissenting voices within the group, further professional and reputational marginalization of those who are outside it, and a concentration of power at the centre. To be clear, the intention here is not to paint strategic culture as intrinsically sinister, nor is it to accuse the thirty-four directors, former Frieze staff, or RCA alumni of underhand tactics. The intention is to identify facets of the new conservatism and to illustrate how these states of affairs strengthen and reproduce a pre-existing model.

The above examples show how the new conservatism is operating today, but what are its roots? How did it come to prominence? 1990 was the transitional decade, but the ‘80s and Thatcherism – that is the policies pursued by the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher, and the cultural and ideological shifts in public opinions, attitudes and beliefs they caused – prepared the ground. Specifically, Thatcher presided over the destruction of labour unions, the deracination of the working class in particular and communities in general, reducing the public sector and, in the words of Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, ‘privatising the world’. Many community focused arts and culture initiatives were gradually defunded and ultimately, by the ‘90’s onset, dissolved.

In the UK’s capital the Greater London Council (GLC), and the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) were wound up in 1986 and 1990 respectively. Both organisations were beacons of progressive, anti-racist, left leaning activities whilst under Labour control in the 1980s, and helped to support and build projects that included, but were not limited to, community workshops, free arts and music festivals, educational broadcasting, school library provisions, and free musical instrument training and cultural activities for children. Such organisations were the official backdrop to smaller grass-roots initiatives like the Keskidee Arts Centre, the UK’s first arts centre for the black community, which closed its Kings Cross premises in 1991, and Centreprise, a bookshop and community cultural centre in Hackney that hung on until 2012.

27 October 1986 was a key date in Thatcher’s agenda to, in the words of poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘gradually strengthen the hand of capital and weaken the hand of labour’. According to journalist Iain Martin, this was the year that ‘a switch was flipped and the Stock Exchange was opened up, liberalized and computerized,’ a dramatic alteration known as the ‘Big Bang’. The effects of the deregulation, liberalisation, and internationalisation of city finance, consolidated London’s status as the global financial capital of the world, birthed Canary Wharf as a business district, fired the starter pistol on rapid gentrification, and redoubled the City’s status as, what journalist Anthony Sampson once described as, ‘an offshore island in the heart of the nation.’

As international money flowed in, public money was cut off and privatization accelerated. The socio-economic ripples from this explosion of financial liberalisation helped to push the arts and culture sector towards a more corporate, bureaucratic professionalism, funds previously available to informal or ad-hoc grass-roots organisations became increasingly difficult to access and drifted up into the hands of museums, galleries, private companies and non-profits. These organisations gradually expropriatated the language of engagement, strategies of outreach, and educational initiatives and essentially took over the community arts sector’s participatory territory.

Over two decades of this process has yielded large PPP organisations like the commissioning agency Create (of which Frieze’s Slotover is a trustee), and Open School East (OSE) founded by former Frieze employees Thorne, Laurence Taylor, McCrory, and their colleague Anna Colin. Whereas organisations like the Keskidee were run by marginalised community members and sought to train, empower, support and hand over the reigns to that same citizenry, Create and OSE do things differently. Theirs is a kind of ostensible social enterprise that uses the same citizenry to do two things: to secure and elicit public and private funding for projects that use East London’s low income populace as either their medium, material or target (see Create’s Chicken Town, a 2016 project with Assemble that produced ‘a not-for-profit restaurant offering a delicious alternative to the growing number of chicken shops on the high street that sell cheap, poor quality and unhealthy food’); or to fund their own operations (according to their 2016 accounts Colin, Taylor and possibly other OSE staff paid themselves £57,392, spent £90,308 on its associates teaching programme, £18,819 on community projects, and £12,394 on projects – delivered by unpaid associate artists). For those watching the acceleration of social cleansing in London and thinking where next, Woolwich may well be it.

_Render of redevelopment plans in Woolwhich_

With property prices and land value in general set to drastically increase as a result of Crossrail links, the expected influx of high earners is fueling the ‘new masterplan’ for the Royal Arsenal site which will include ‘3,750 new homes, and new cultural, heritage and leisure quarters.’ In North Woolwich the London Borough of Newham (whose Mayor Robin Wales’s abysmal record of public-sector defunding and family displacement has been documented and fought against by the Focus E15 campaign group) are supporting Create’s management of the Grade II listed Old North Woolwich Station, to be inhabited by OSE, ‘creative businesses and artists’. The development of rail infrastructure, the hiking of house prices, the sudden appearance of professionalised arts and cultural organisations to replace or manage the work of informal community organisations, the commercial branding of neighbourhoods using that same professionalised arts and culture as a cover: this is, of course, the same model of gentrification we’ve seen applied elsewhere (Peckham, Hackney, etc.), and all the preparations are being made for massive community displacement.

Taking all of the above into account the new conservatism’s sector dominance augurs a bleak future. However there are artists and organisations whose work indicates positive directions for potential change.

One of the most important factors in the development of arts and culture this century will be access to financial capital. Its scarcity following the global financial crisis and public cuts has seen institutions turning to private finance (in all its forms), and the professional standing of those with easy access rise significantly. In opposition to this retrograde step artist Ellie Harrison, community activist Jain McIntyre, and Curator Cecilia Wee, are developing the Radical Renewable Art and Activism Fund (RRAAF). Aiming to use ‘renewable energy as an alternative funding source for socially and politically engaged art-activist projects’, RRAAF’s co-operative model (shared ownership of a company whose profits from the sale of ethically sourced energy would be used for grants), could be scaled up and reproduced elsewhere in the UK. Their scoping document is available through www.rraafund.org and offers a serious alternative to the pervasive acceptance of economic exploitation that sees even bequest-based grant givers like the Elephant Trust relying on profit yields from an investment portfolio that includes Shell Oil.

On the gallery side, Turf Projects is the first artist-run space in Croydon and crucially it was founded by a young team who are personally committed to the area, dedicated to supporting its community, and are conscious of the need to resist the instrumentalisation and commercialisation of their activities. With well-curated exhibitions, studio provisions, open crits, and their collaborative initiative with the Makers of Stuff Squad (a collective of artists with learning difficulties or mental health issues), Turf are indicative of a wave of socio-politically engaged, and ethically minded young artists entering the field with a civic focus and level of ethical professionalism older artist-led organisations are still struggling to come to terms with – while the PPP operating Cubitt Artists’ (supported by Outset and Deutsche Bank) set up its education programme in the 1990s to keep ACE funding it was under threat of loosing, Turf’s education and community engagement are intrinsic founding principles.


_Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad of The White Pube_

In criticism Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad’s website ‘The White Pube’ presents one of the first truly new voices in British art criticism in the twenty–first century, and most importantly its writers have risen to prominence without the help or patronage of Art Review, Art Monthly, Frieze, or any of the other publication or established platforms in the UK. Informal yet stylistically innovative, art historically rigorous without the staid academicism or florid pomposity of much established writing, the pair’s mix of reviews, essays, podcasts, and social media posts are bound together with a singular critical voice grappling with contemporary issues of race, gender, sexuality, aesthetics and ethics. Rather than the brattish, sneering insider defamations of anonymous online blogs of the past like Cathedral of Shit, The White Pube’s irreverent criticism comes from a personal perspective that is publicly attributable to both authors. This is all the more significant given their focus on artists of colour, in a field that is still comprehensively monocultural. A rough, approximate sample (i.e. detailed in-house demographics may tell a different story) taken from the top three UK art magazine’s summer issues showed Frieze had a quota of zero discernably British Black or British Asian writers in fifty three separate contributors, Art Review a possible two (Nirmala Devi and Sarah Jilani) in thirty seven, and Art Monthly zero in twenty three - surprisingly, from August 2016 to August 2017 out of 103 separate contributors, Art Monthly had two discernibly Black British writers, and possibly two discernibly British Asian writers.

Creating avenues for funding separate from exploitative networks, organizing gallery spaces with a sense of civic responsibility, and devising opportunities for new critical voices invisible in a staid sector, aren’t they all the basic ingredients for a self-sustaining field? What would happen if these and other actors on the periphery engaged in similar activities came together? Could a unified drive towards extrication emerge? Would a robust and potentially radical art world then be possible to build from the ground up? Would an art world liberated from tired orthodoxies be possible? These are all pertinent questions, because although the new conservatism is a terminological invention, the behaviours it has been used to refer to above – the performance of progressive tendencies alongside actual capitulation to private finance, the preservation of an homogeneous field, and activities in step with the state’s agenda to instrumentalise arts and culture – are very real and metastasizing.

In the face of such developments the question of institutional or sectoral reform now seems mute. For at least forty years reform has been the rallying cry driving articles, books, exhibitions, institutional critique, protest, endless symposia, and what have they yielded? Little change, but plenty of critical awareness. The type of awareness that encourages gallery directors to avoid political conversations with patrons who favour free market economics and the Conservative party; the type of awareness that allows editors to commission articles on the need for diversity, when their own magazines are more monocultural than the local police station; and the type of awareness that has produced artists whose words and works explicitly decry racism, capitalism, sexism, gender normativity and so on, but remain silent and mysteriously conflicted when it comes to the actual money, institutions, and individuals who support both their works and the systems of repression they critique.

This willful inattention is what preserves the current state of affairs, but it needn’t be so. Despite protestations that the pervasive and inescapable reach of neoliberal capitalism has created an existential framework in which compromise and complicity are the new original sins, I suspect silence, resignation or apathy are fuelled by something far more basic, comfort. Put simply, people are adverse to personal risk and lifestyle change.

If radical progression and a separation of art from systems adversely effecting people across London and the rest of the United Kingdom, is to stand a chance, then it has to start with a reclamation of agency from actors who have been conditioned to believe they do not have any. Replace, or at the very least augment, the impulse to engage and reform with a robust effort to withdraw and rebuild.


#2

This open letter relates to a number of Freedom of Information requests I made to Arts Council England. About £100,000 of public money being similarly unaccounted for offshore / privatized by property investors. If anyone is interested I wrote an article about it in this month’s MAY journal . . .

Dear Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England

In 2013, V22 London Ltd. acquired a 125-year lease on former public building, Louise House, from Lewisham Council. In 2016, V22 London Ltd. sub-let this property to V22 Foundation for 123 years at an inflated rent. It appears Arts Council England funding underwrote and paid for this commercial, profit-driven transaction. Supporting V22’s Directors’ simultaneous interests in London property markets[1].

Arts Council England agreed funding of £315,000 on 19th February 2015. The offer was made to Kathleen Cranswick, as Director of V22 Foundation[2]. On 30th September 2015, an invoice was submitted to Arts Council England. For direct payment of £123,697.37 from this grant.[3] Of this, £100,000 is itemised as “Premium payable to V22 London Ltd.” alongside sums of £5,400 and £7,095.60 invoiced by V22 London Ltd. This document is signed by Kathleen Tara Cranswick – as Director of V22 London Ltd.

V22’s structure risks its CEO to personally profiting from public funding in 4 ways:

Payment as employee (via V22 Foundation Directorship)
Payment as employee (via V22 London Ltd. Directorship)
Profit from V22 London Ltd. revenue (enhanced value of parent company shareholdings)
Profit from V22 Plc (via any dividends /other payments accounted for offshore[4])

This account of V22’s activities is from V22’s report to Investors[5]:

The success of our property strategy is also reflected in the increase in net asset value. Our subsidiary V22 London Ltd. was delighted to enter into a 125-year lease on Louise House in Forest Hill, London, in May this year. . . V22 London sold a long lease on the rear of the building of this property to V22 Foundation. V22 Foundation raised significant grant funding from the Mayor of London and Arts Council England.

This account of V22’s activities is from the Financial Times[6]:

Year on year V22 Plc has grown net income from a loss of 40.38k to a gain of 893.44k primarily through revenue growth (822.31k to 1.24m). For while (sic) the costs associated with cost of goods, selling, general and administrative and debt all increased as a percentage of sales, the 51.36% growth in revenues contributed enough to still see net income improve.

This account of V22’s activities is from their Director’s Dealings announcement[7]:

Kathleen Cranswick, Executive Director of the Company. . . now holds 3,349,444 Ordinary Shares representing 10.70% of the issued ordinary share capital of the Company. In connection with the share purchase, Ms Cranswick also received 3,000,000 deferred A shares and 3,000,000 deferred B shares in the Company (the “Deferred Shares”). . . Ms Cranswick is now interested in 27.30% of the voting capital of the Company.

Clearly, V22 is not the V22 Foundation. And the V22 Foundation does not exist independently. V22’s CEO defines V22 as “3 complimentary companies[8]”. And V22 as, “the alternative name… (if any) for the V22 Foundation[9]”. In 2009[10], 2011[11], 2012[12] and 2016, V22’s CEO authorised payment for herself in company shares. Some in off-market transactions[13]. V22’s CEO personally loaned V22 £15,000, repayable at 7% interest[14]. Arts Council England granted V22’s London Ltd. subsidiary £5,000[15]. And V22’s Foundation subsidiary £405,000 from between 2011 - 2015[16]. So suggestions ACE funding was ‘ring fenced’ from V22’s ‘core running costs’ appear questionable.

Does Arts Council England, “supporting organisations to be more resilient by having the right buildings and equipment to deliver their work” now include paying / sponsoring private investors to Privatize Library services / properties across London[17]? Is Arts Council England able to recognise a breach of any funding agreement, or a funding agreement framework that isn’t fit for purpose? Is Arts Council England responsible for any misappropriation of public money that this case may represent?

[1] Companies House lists also lists V22 Director Tara Cranswick as Director of V220 Ltd (‘Management of real estate on a fee or contract basis’), In Ladywell Ltd. (‘letting and operating of own or leased real estate’) and African Agronomix (‘Mining and Quarrying’). V22 Director Bruce McRobie is listed as Director of V220 Ltd (‘management of real estate on a fee or contract basis’), Mornington Road (block H) Management Company Ltd. (‘property management’) and Shakey Isle Ltd (buying and selling of own real estate’)

[2] Offer of funding letter, dated 19 February 2015 (via FOI request) http://bit.ly/2uqORNg

[3] V22 Certified Invoice Summary, dated 30 September 2015 (via FOI request) http://bit.ly/2tqhIkq

[4] Company number 115477C – incorporated and Registered in the Isle of Man

[5] V22 Plc Group’s results for six-mionths to 30 June. 30th September 2016: http://bit.ly/2sGF3Bo

[6] Markets.ft.com: http://on.ft.com/2tRC35m

[7] V22 Directors Dealings announcenment. 24 February 2016: http://bit.ly/2uqq8bM

[8] Social Stock Exchange, V22 Impact Report, 2013: http://bit.ly/2sqxDxS

[9] Offer of funding letter, dated 10 September 2008 (via FOI request) http://bit.ly/2tJt3ih

[10] V22 Issue of Shares announcement, 31 July 2009: http://bit.ly/2tqIo4Q

[11] V22 Issue of Equity and Total Voting Rights announcement, 28 December, 2011: http://bit.ly/2thIIUT

[12] V22 Issue of Equity and Total Voting Rights announcement, 28 December, 2012: http://bit.ly/2tRCrRd

[13] V22 Directors Dealings announcement, 24 February 2016: http://bit.ly/2uqq8bM

[14] V22 Final Results announcement, 28th April 2015: http://bit.ly/2uLacQF

[15] Offer of Funding Letter, dated 10 September 2088 (via FOI request) http://bit.ly/2sGFlIu

[16] Re. FOI Request 1/12 email, dated 5 June 2017 (via FOI request): http://bit.ly/2sHzpPD

[17] The Bookseller, ‘concerns over Forest Hill Library plans to rent deskspace’, Natasha Onwuemezi: http://bit.ly/2toJtMw plus quoted hyperlink: http://bit.ly/2tQ6GHi

last paragraph, ACE reply:

“Although we are unable to enter into dialogue regarding the financial operations of
a third-party and cannot enter into further discussion, I’d like to thank you for
taking the time to contact us.”

Kind regards,
Complaints Manager, Arts Council of England


#3

This piece is so full of errors and deliberate misreadings that is is hard to know where to start.

As Morgan notes, we founded Frieze in 1991 as a UK limited company. Over the last 26 years we believe we have run the company prudently. It has and does make a profit - this is necessary, for the company to continue to operate, reinvest and grow.

We set up Denmark Street Ltd in Jersey not to avoid tax, as Morgan suggests, but to keep our finances private from competitors. We pay full UK tax on our activities, and US taxes in our US subsidiary. To suggest otherwise is untrue and misleading.

Frieze Public Programmes was launched as a non-profit, to run non-profit activities - education, artists’ projects and public commissions. Contrary to Morgan’s assertion, Frieze subsidizes these activities rather than profiting from them. The non-profit has been supported by EU Culture grants, private foundations, commercial sponsorship, and to a much lesser extent, the Arts Council of England.

The Page and Screen project was a way to open up our distribution channels to writers and give them an opportunity to make a film of their own choice. It would not have happened without ACE support and did not contribute to Frieze’s profit - is is misleading to read the financial report in that way.

I hope Morgan and e-flux will check their facts before publishing next time.

Matthew Slotover
Co-founder, Frieze

From Jennifer Higgie:

Morgan states that: ‘A rough, approximate sample (i.e. detailed in-house demographics may tell a different story) taken from the top three UK art magazine’s summer issues showed Frieze had a quota of zero discernably British Black or British Asian writers in fifty three separate contributors.’

frieze is an international magazine: much of our content is from outside the UK and many of the writers we publish and the artists we cover are not white. While we recognise that we can improve upon the representation of writers, artists and curators of colour, we have been working diligently to redress these imbalances.

Of the past eight issues of frieze, four of our covers have been artworks by artists of colour, and seven are by women. In 2017 alone, across both frieze and Frieze Masters magazine, we have published 23 pieces by writers and artists of colour as well as many diverse voices from South and Central America and the Middle East.

Towards the end of his article, Morgan asks: ‘Would an art world liberated from tired orthodoxies be possible?’ Ironically, it’s a question we constantly ask ourselves. It’s dispiriting that Morgan is content to condemn so many honest, ethical and hard-working people without getting his facts straight. To my mind, it’s the kind of tactic that the old, tired orthodoxies knew all too well.

Jennifer Higgie
Editorial Director, Frieze


#4

“In criticism Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad’s website ‘The White Pube’ presents one of the first truly new voices in British art criticism in the twenty–first century, and most importantly its writers have risen to prominence without the help or patronage of Art Review, Art Monthly, Frieze, or any of the other publication or established platforms in the UK.”

Yes BUT, they have been given a profile because they attended an elitist art school. An art school that, for many reasons, has still not shaken off its immortalisation in Pulp’s Common People. Despite this article discussing the problems of institutions in the UK, the predictable art school conveyor belt is not elucidated. In terms of selling work and being taken ‘seriously’ (and being taken seriously is important if you don’t sell work, like The White Pube), where you went to art school is both an endorsement and a platform for you career. It’s no different to the Oxbridge domination of politics, economics, media, culture and law in the UK. Where you studied as an artist is very rarely discussed in a lot of these critiques, perhaps I think because the author(s) do not believe that their educational background is essentially a clique / privilege and a gateway to the global cultural elites Quaintance describes. Would it be possible for another White Pube to exist, solely educated and based in a regional setting if the institution the artists studied at (or if they didn’t study at all) was not London centric and therefore not endorsed by the British cultural elite (an elite btw who are resolutely pale, male, ~middle class~ and stale)? In other words, I’m trying say we can’t say The White Pube are a ‘truly new voice’, because so much attention/provenance is given to London art school graduates in particular by the art media – yep, even if they don’t have the patronage of the big three publications.

I genuinely believe that if Quaintance means what he says (and I believe he does), the way to give voice to those with little agency, is to promote the careers of artists/curators/writers who are not from the over exposed London art schools, i.e. educational establishments that are used as a guarantee of provenance when work is sold on the high-end bullshit neo-liberal market (which is part of the wider economic model that is destroying the planet), and therefore not from within the confines of the suffocating British cultural elite. It would make for a much more diverse art scene in the UK and also, take aim at the class divisions in our country, which are acutely perpetuated from birth. Because what working class person, from any ethnic background, can afford to study in London?


#5

We wish to respond to the aspects of this piece that concern the organisation we work for, that is Open School East, as we find it odd that it is used to illustrate this article. What’s more there are a number of inaccuracies which we ought to correct.

To set the context, we are an arts education charity and like the great majority of publicly funded arts organisations in the UK, we necessarily have the same mixed economy.

The first thing you say about Open School East is that they "fund their own operations”. Our operation consists in providing free learning opportunities to emerging artists and the wider public, as well as offering free shared studio space. In the current climate, this has proved to fulfil an important need.

£57,392 is spent on 3 salaries + on costs every year (all part time, the first one is 0.5, the second 0.6 and the third one 0.8: in in other words that makes almost two full time salaries). For reference, £57,392 is a fairly average salary for one single director in an art museum or large public gallery in the UK.

£90,308 is spent on its associates teaching programme. This is used to employ artists - we pay 6 mentors to come 5 times a year and 40 tutors to do a day of teaching every year, and some of these mentors and tutors are former associates; to provide each associate with seed funding to develop a project or research; as well as to pay for materials for the programme, the majority of which is open to the public.

The £18,819 spent on community projects is correct.

And so is the £12,394 on projects. “Delivered by unpaid associate artists”? That’s the contentious bit. This is going to be long-winded but necessary to set the record straight.

Firstly these projects are led by artists whom we commission and to whom we pay a fee, which is calculated according to the scale and length of the project. They only involve the associate artists who choose to play a part in it - the projects often involve workshops and are indeed attended by some of the associates and members of the public who opt to follow the learning. Some associates choose to assist the lead artist in the project’s development to gain educational experience. They have complete agency over that choice.

You may not agree with our formal contract with the associate artists who join Open School East that “in lieu of paying fees, they give the equivalent of one day a month of their time to run or assist with public activities in and around the building", which is fair enough. The programming they do serves their learning and helps them expand their network. They invite artists and theorists they want to engage with to deliver lectures, excursions or workshops. It has been a pretty useful tool for many of them in terms of making connections and meeting future collaborators and even employers. And those who choose not to invite anyone or not to do their ‘one day a month’ have the right to do so.

We do ask the associates to help us on several occasions, for instance with running a neighbourhood open day (that happens once or twice a year) or to unlock and lock the building for an event or organisation in need of a space, which the associates have collectively agreed to host. That is part of our exchange deal.

We also provide paid opportunities to current associates. This is the case of a three-month long project with local young people for which three associates and a lead artists are paid, equally, to run weekly afternoon workshops for the young people.

And to correct some more inaccurate facts, OSE isn’t moving back to London, as you claimed in Plymouth in a recent talk. We never intended to move to Margate for only a year. We are staying put. There have been talks of OSE taking part in a project in North Woolwich with Create, which may or may not happen, but that’s a completely separate project to our main operation.

Open School East


#6

I think it’s worth discussing the privileges afforded to people who attend “elitist art schools”, but focusing on The White Pube misses the mark by a fair way. They may have attended CSM, but their success as critics doesn’t simply stem from their affiliation with that institution. It’s reductive to suggest this. Your assertion ignores their unique approach to criticism, which has garnered an audience for the insights it offers, rather than institutional affiliation.

Your reference to the “Oxbridge domination of politics, economics, media, culture and law in the UK” is a poor comparison in this context. Said domination is largely facilitated by financial privilege, ‘industry contacts’ and other systemic ‘in roads’ (the same stale, male and pale avenue that you refer to yourself). The White Pube don’t have these privileges (see below).

“Because what working class person, from any ethnic background, can afford to study in London?”

You haven’t researched this. The White Pube founders are both from marginalised backgrounds (POC / working class). I sincerely doubt either of them could ‘afford’ to study in London and are both reeling from the debt that they’re now in.


#7

Hi Kay,

I Cba with myself already for joining E-Flux specifically to reply to this comment, but here we are.

The white pube is not :fire::fire::fire: because we studied at a London university or are endorsed by the cultural elite (who don’t like us and won’t have us on their press mailing lists haha), we are on this list because we are good at the internet and able to be critical in a truly independent no shits given sorta way. We only mention going to CSM if we are asked, because frankly they have not supported us in any special way since graduating. We went there this week to give a lecture and they paid us £75 each to do so, it was bullshit that they refused to double the bill for a collaboration even tho they namedrop us on every fuckin press release and use our cultural capital as alumni to advertise the fine art course. We told them this to their face at the lecture, it was fun. What I am grateful for from CSM is the politically-driven course (I think where other unis push craft or actual art production skills in csm we jus learned how to have a conversation and think about art and perspective;; good breeding ground for thewhitepube.com but there are equally good conversations happening in LJMU and Glasgow etc).

Which brings me on to my other point. After putting ourselves into £47K worth of debt by going to university, a course which we both got onto because of Internal Progression, which was a UAL wide scheme to help foundation students get into HE - - and which I went on housing benefits to be eligible for in the first place because I had moved out of home at 18 and down to London, spoiler alert, I am from Liverpool. I returned to Liverpool after graduating, and zarina moved back home too, 2 be able to take a risk on our self-employment efforts as art critics on TWP. (Also zarina wants me to tell you that there were only 2 brown students who went through IP from her foundation college and she fucked up her interview so she’s sure she got on for the diversity quota loool).

We fully support regional discussions, I am LITERLALyyyY writing this on a train to chesterfield right now for a panel we are on in Chesterfield library this evening ffs. We travel to various places every month to make sure the reviews we publish aren’t completely dominated by the tired London shows. Ie Wigan Notts idk go on the website and have a look.

This year we did a film screening from an open call of artists who don’t have a degree in fine art, and showed it in basic mountain in Edinburgh, the bluecoat in Liverpool, and SPACE in London.

I spent the entirety of March working on a funding app for ACE to hold coffee mornings in 16 spaces across England inc Northumberland lol to have conversations about arts activity, and that failed haha.

We are critics in residence in Middlesbrough institute of modern art.

London is shit and I fully want us all to look elsewhere and work legitimately and nationally. But CSM hasn’t done us shit ba make us angry and in a LOTTTTA debt t b h. So I feel we have a legitimate place on this list. Let me know if you want any more of our life story


#8

but compared to those 23 POC writers how many white ppl wrote for you in the same time frame? (I’m not even getting into the diversification of POC identity itself and gender and ability). Who made the art for the cover of the magazine is a different issue altogether, we’re talkin structural politics here, what matters is who is in the writing and editorial positions.


#9

Hi Matt, glad you and your team have taken time to respond to this article. I think that a Jersey based company doesn’t really communicate transparency and apart from corporation tax there are other tax benefits to an off-shore vehicle such as transfer of royalties and dividends income so a little more clarity here would be helpful? I have to say that based on your response the article does not appear to be ‘full of errors’ as you have only pointed out but only one (assuming frieze and Frieze Masters are UK corporate tax residents), but full of points of view that you disagree with.

On a more general point I am hoping for, and would expect, a more robust defense of the position frieze/DSL represents and it’s relationship to the ‘new conservatism’ Morgan describes.

Regarding Jennifer’s points a better understanding of how the ‘23’ number was arrived at and what percentage of total contributions it represents would be helpful? Are these 23 articles by UK based writers and artists (which is where I think Morgan was going with this)? And how many writers produced those 23 articles? Perhaps also some indication of what practical steps are currently by being undertaken by frieze to address the imbalance that I am glad you recognise?

Morgan’s point about OSE is its relationship to frieze and Create (OSE was setup by frieze ex-employees, frieze sits on the Create board and Create sits on OSE board). So it does feel as if OSE is at least complicit in the conservative agenda to transfer the wealth and resources of the communities it works with from the public to the private sector (rather than the model of the Keskidee, Turf or Welling Visual Arts). Finally the ‘inaccuracies’ OSE describes relate to a conversation in Plymouth not in the article itself.


#10

Hi Russell,

Thanks for your response. I hope I can clarify some of your questions.

Regarding the Jersey issue - our competitors are in countries (e.g. US, Switzerland) where corporate law does not requite full accounting transparency, and in the past they have used info on our finances for their own benefit. This is the only reason we set the company up in Jersey. I can tell you categorically that we do not use the Jersey location for any financial benefit in tax reduction, such as those you describe, we pay the same tax, in all our operations, as we would as in the UK for dividends, corporation tax, royalties etc. There is no tax avoidance going on here.

Morgan’s piece is a bit unclear to me regarding this new conservatism’… so not exactly sure how to respond to that, but some more thoughts below. As bad as actual factual inaccuracies are assumptions and sly insinuations that promote inaccurate readings.

On Jennifer’s point, it is 23 writers, not 23 pieces. We have not counted the number of total pieces, but anyone can do this - feel free. We know Frieze can always do better in terms of diversity and gender equality on writers, staff and subject matter but as Jennifer shows, we are aware of this and working on it, and our record has improved over the last few years pretty dramatically. Give some credit where its due. We didn’t also mention that according to Morgan’s own website, Frieze was the first publication to publish him (alongside Art Monthly - published the same month). Morgan has written 17 pieces for Frieze and was asked to do one of the ‘Page and Screen’ videos, which he accepted and the declined at the last minute citing lack of time.

On OSE and Create - Anna has responded re OSE and I hope Hadrian, the founder and director of Create, will respond on their behalf. He has read it and I understand there are factual inaccuracies regarding Create too. But it’s a total misreading to say Create supports gentrification through the arts… quite the opposite, it’s goal is to engage low income and historically unengaged communities with the arts.

I don’t really understand the point about ‘transferring wealth from public to private sectors’. OSE and Create are charities, which get public money, do good work, pay their staff, and do not make or distribute profits. Is a charity the ‘private sector’? Why is that ‘new conservative’? They are non-profit arts and education organisations like all the others funded by ACE.

I don’t understand why Morgan calls them PPPs - the first definition I found online for a PPP is

‘a partnership between a government agency and private-sector company can be used to finance, build and operate projects, such as public transportation networks, parks and convention centers. Financing a project through a public-private partnership can allow a project to be completed sooner or make it a possibility in the first place. For example, a city government might be heavily indebted, but a private enterprise might be interested in funding the project’s construction in exchange for receiving the operating profits once the project is complete.’

In these organisations, there are no operating profits… it’s a misuse of the term, used to impugn these organisations’ reputations by linking them to Norman Lamont and New Labour. Really misleading.

From my part, I am proud that ex-frieze colleagues have gone on to found and work in distinguished public organisations. I am proud to serve as a trustee on Create, and also on the South London Gallery (which I chair) and the Arts Foundation (which gives awards to artists). Several other Frieze staff are on boards of non-profits - it’s an individual choice - but I believe we all give our time to support the non-profit sector. To see this as some kind of mafia promoting ‘new conservatism’ is wrong, we are there to support the directors and missions of those institutions.

OSE and Create do not pretend to be grass-roots organisations like Keskidee et al, run by the communities they were set up to serve. Nor are most ACE-funded organisations… So why single out these two?


#11

One more thing! (Each time I read the piece I find another error.) Frieze Public Programmes is not a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ as used by Enron etc. It’s a normal UK ‘company limited by guarantee’ - this is the normal way to set up a non-profit in the UK. Again, like PPP, Morgan is using the term SPV as a way to taint Frieze by association. This is exhausting.


#12

Hi Matthew,

Beyond the tax affairs of frieze/DSL I think there is a wider debate going on here.

I have a pretty clear understanding of what Morgan is attempting to capture in his description of ‘new’ or ‘neo’ conservatism. The standard definition in Encyclopaedia Britannica is as follows: ‘Neo-conservatism, variant of the political ideology of conservatism that combines features of traditional conservatism with political individualism and a qualified endorsement of free markets.’ I don’t think there is any question that frieze has, by virtue of the market it creates, played its part in the shift of arts funding over the past 20-30 years away from state coffers to capital from private donors. It is my assumption (perhaps wrongly) that frieze would perceive this shift as something positive, beneficial to the arts and a position to defend to some extent.

Although there are a range of partners supporting Create many of them have significant property portfolios including the Chair John Studzinski CBE, Vice Chairman, Investor Relations and Business Development and a Senior Managing Director of Blackstone. Organisations such as Create capture the stories and heritage of working class neighbourhoods potentially providing the foundations for a brand development process. The brand equity created out of this development process can then used by capital investors to attract affluent consumers and additional investors. This brand equity - given for free by those working class communities in the form of culture and experience, and developed over decades and sometimes centuries - is valued and tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of pounds returning only a tiny fraction of it to those from whom it was skillfully wrestled. The majority of this new value is then passed on to affluent consumers and investors who both reap the benefits of the brand equity and supplant those original inhabitants with their own. I was born in Peckham so have experienced this process first-hand.


#13

Hi Matthew and Jennifer

Thanks for your comments.

Responding to what you’ve written here and in your e-mail correspondence will give me a chance to clarify a few wider points in the text, and to elaborate on a couple of elements I left unexpanded for lack of space. Originally the article was written for hard copy publication (a word count of under 3,500 words, I think). Even though the resulting piece is a good thousand or so words beyond that limit, I still had to reign in points where I would have liked to gallop off into more detail.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about the overall thrust of the text and so I’ll do a summery here, which will most probably include a fair bit of copy and pasting from the original article.

[The summary can be jumped, by going straight to ‘responses’ below, but to do so will probably result in more confusion.]

Summary

My intention was to identify and characterise a tendency within the UK art world in which institutions and individuals who may present or think of themselves as agents of change and progression are actually agents of stasis. The key point was that these behaviours, whether consciously adopted or unconsciously performed as ‘the done thing’, actually ‘undermine progression, or benefit from the same oppressive structures and exploitative logics that many artists, arts professionals, and a large proportion of the general public are either fighting against or oppressed by.’

Traditional conservatism as I understand it has at its core an impulse to conserve, to preserve things as they are, and it produces an attitude of suspicion and disdain in the face of the unorthodox, the innovative or the iconoclastic. The reason I used the term ‘new conservatism’ was because these traditional attributes of hostility in the face of potential change have given way to a kind of affected enthusiasm for it, a display of support for (note the scare quotes) “the unorthodox, the innovative or the iconoclastic”. It’s the performance of progression basically.

If I could put a quick place on where the tendency begins in this country, I’d hazard Saatchi and Saatchi’s 1979 campaign for the Conservative party could be a good place to start. The ad featured a long line of jobless people queuing up for the ‘employment office’ under the all-bold caps slogan ‘LABOUR ISN’T WORKING’. This was an attempt to convince the general public that Conservatives were the party of ordinary working people, not the rich. It was and is of course a lie, but it’s an effective and affective lie, which is why they continue to peddle it today. Consider Theresa May’s recent “Oceana [has] always been at war with Eurasia”, statement:

‘The Conservative party has always been the true party of the workers and at this great moment of change […] it is the Conservative party that is the unashamed voice of ordinary working people’

Obviously it’s unnecessary to go into their recent record of public sector cuts, race to the bottom tax threats, work and welfare reforms, and the rest to explain why the above is false. What seems clear to me is that there is a political tendency to present progression whilst enacting the very opposite, and this political tendency is mirrored by something similar within the UK art world.

Its roots in the UK art world lay within, I believe, neoliberal reforms in the 1980s (the Big Bang being one of them) that had an influential effect on arts and cultural policy. It’s part of a steady progression from Keynes’s ‘best for the most’ post-war approach of supporting opera, ballet, and theatre as (and I’m quoting Caroline Donnelan from her recent book ‘Towards Tate Modern: Public Gallery, Private Vision’) ‘core sectors […] considered as “marginal to economic life and dependent on public subsidy”’, to arts and culture being ‘collectively ring-fenced as the creative industries’ (i.e. wealth generating sectors), by New Labour’s Department for Culture Media and Sport in 1997.

I would again argue 1992 seems key. This was the year that the Museums and Galleries Act (and I’m quoting Donnelan again) ‘decreed that Tate Gallery was to be governed by a board of trustees headed by a director, appointed by them with the approval of the prime minister. According the rights of corporate status, which invested all property, rights and liabilities with the director to be accountable to the board(s) of trustees, provided the Tate greater autonomy. Accountability for how museums and galleries manages their assets underscored that fact’.

The story is Tate’s assets were managed impeccably, and also strengthened and protected their relationships with private and corporate sponsors like British Petroleum, and it is this development that is problematic, has landed Tate in court trying to fight Freedom of Information Requests in order to avoid ‘reputational risk’ and continues today in the shape of the Blavatnik building. Why is it problematic? Because ‘Soul of a Nation is profoundly undermined by the funds Tate received [from a billionaire] who also gave $1 million to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, a president favoured by the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and White Nationalists, who many feel has done much to legitimize and embolden the far right, and is expected to do considerable harm to race relations in America’.

The argument here might well be that ‘the art world needs to partner with corporate and private finance, even if that money comes from questionable sources’ but in response I and a great number of people are asking does it? This and the possibility of removing the emphasis on sales of art or say turning away from the market, are basic level questions about restructuring that cannot seriously be considered or acted upon by sections of the art world whose existences depend on the maintenance of those two things. In other words you are not in the business of figuring out how to make yourselves redundant, no-longer profitable, or economically imperiled – which is obviously why Jersey is used for the purposes of financial secrecy ‘from competitors’ as stated in your previous comment.

It is not just a financial issue either. The demographic and ideological homogeneity across established sections of the UK art world, the relatively uncritical dealings with state power, the observance of redundant hierarchies, and on, and on, and on, these are all things that will, as far I can see, never change as long as they are characteristic features of some institutions and embedded in the professional and social practices of people who work in them. To actually question and seriously dismantle such frameworks would put reality at risk for those organisations and individuals, but this is precisely the point at which productive activity has to take place.

That is the call to arms at the heart of the text. It is addressed to all of those artists, arts professionals, cultural producers etc. who are tired of the conditions they are stuck within and want to work towards creating something else. It is not a ‘call out’ I’m not asking any of the institutions mentioned in the piece to change, I’m not engaging so I can ask you to reform. I am attempting to articulate a great wave of dissatisfaction felt by a huge amount of people with a repressive sector that Tate, Frieze and others are, wittingly or unwittingly, determining the parameters of.

How do I know a great many people feel this way? Two reasons. One, because it is an opinion I have heard expressed in much less polite terms, from a significant number of people, over a number of years; two, because of the overwhelmingly positive responses from people since I posted the piece last week. Here’s a sample of a few quotes: ‘it’s much worse than you think’, ‘what you wrote was pretty moderate’, ‘[it’s] relevant to some of the things we’ve been working on’, ‘it’s impossible to reform neoliberal institutions’. Alongside such statements have come articles of research and anecdotal accounts that paint a very bleak picture of the UK art world indeed.

Finally, the oddest thing about this dynamic of performed progression and enacted stasis is that institutions that are maintaining it may not even realize that they are. They may actually think they’re doing everything in their power to address pertinent structural issues even as they enact them. Put simply, they just don’t get it and nothing I or anyone else can say will change that.

With that last point in mind I’m submitting these responses not because I hope they will be agreed with, or prompt any kind of reaction, but because they have been requested. The length is necessary to attempt to comprehensively address points raised and to avoid a fruitless, time wasting, and unnecessary back and forth.

Like I wrote in my e-mail reply on Monday night ‘What is clear is that there are some fundamental differences in perspective and belief at play [between us]. My major concerns now aren’t really to do with Frieze and how it runs, but to do with creating (with a growing number of artists) an alternative to a repressive system that has been operating with impunity in the art world for too long.’

In other words, let’s agree to disagree and move on.

Responses

[Monocultural Criticism]

The reason I took a sample of summer issue demographics for Frieze, Art Review, and Art Monthly, was to provide substance for the claim, made in passing, that art criticism through established platforms in this country is still comprehensively monocultural. I do not claim this is due to nefarious, sinister or racist intentions on the parts of editorial staff, it was just a statement of fact.

I was surprised by Art Monthly’s year long stats because they consistently publish and support (in my opinion) some of the best arts criticism in the country, and report in detail on the socio-cultural, political and economic contexts in which artists and art are struggling to survive in the UK. It was striking to see that even there this is a problem. Still, if anything I imagined they were probably as surprised by their numbers as I was and are probably figuring out how to address them. I thought perhaps Art Review and yourselves might do the same.

That said, I can’t control how each publication received those demographics, but they were clearly not a personal attack. As far as I could tell, out of Frieze’s 53 summer issue contributors none were British Black or Asian. Good for you that 23 writers and artists of colour contributed in 2017 (the unanswered question from another commenter remains how many white writers contributed during that time, and I would still be interested to know how many British Asian or Black writers make up that 23), but that doesn’t really qualify as a robust rebuff to the claim that arts criticism in this country is comprehensively monocultural – a reality in which Frieze plays it’s part.

Monday evening an e-mail to me from yourselves stated:

‘If your key point is diversity, we actually initiated a young people’s programme a few months ago to inform inner city kids (16-18 year olds) about possible careers in the arts. Our feeling is that this is the only way the art world will diversify.’

I think this recourse to outreach programmes speaks volumes about an alarming lack of knowledge in relation to people already operating in the professional field. In other words the actual art world is already diverse, the ongoing issue is that those bodies are consistently relegated to the margins.

There are loads of working class critics, and critics of colour in London and the rest of the UK. I could list names, but surely it’s Frieze magazine’s job to know and comb the critical field for those voices? Does the magazine’s inability to do so further highlight the homogeneity of your own professional and most likely personal networks?

[On non-profit activities]

In my opinion there is no such thing as non-profit when it comes to activity under the banner of Frieze. Everything that the company does will translate into returns that are either tangible (cash) or intangible (increases in brand awareness and desirability, prestige in the field, distinction from corporate ‘competitors’ and sector peers etc.). Saying parts of Frieze are non-profit because those profits might be indirect, is like saying Facebook is a non-profit business because people can use it for free.

There is a further question in all of this, which is why Frieze applies to Arts Council England at all - especially if they are the least of your contributors. With profits of half a million at the magazine, and the sum of £2,132,674 listed as income for 2014 in your GFTA application, just pay for Frieze projects yourself.

[page and screen]

You’re right I was in line to do a ‘page and screen’ film. My excuse for withdrawing for lack of time, was made to save me the strain of unfolding why I found the whole situation distasteful and a clear attempt to use my cultural capital to bolster a project that seemed hastily put together and dodgy. Communicating that to you would have been a lengthy process and so I walked away – a story that I’d guess is repeated every day for freelancers operating in the UK art world. But that’s beside the point. This isn’t about me.

Still, my vague concerns about the project where substantiated and filled in with details when I literally stumbled across a freedom of information request made in 2016 by someone called Richard Gainsborough.

He wanted copies ‘for all applications, funding decisions and correspondence concerning grants for the arts applications made by Frieze Events Ltd, Frieze Projects and Frieze magazine between 2013–16, including activities coinciding with the Frieze Art Fair and the three-part series of film and essay projects titled 'Page and Screen’, supported by Arts Council England.’ You can check it out here:

When you write the ‘page and screen’ project, ‘would not have happened without ACE support’, do you mean it wouldn’t have happened because Frieze couldn’t afford to pay for it? That’s difficult to believe.

Again the application to ACE (which can be read along with other documents via the link) lists your income at £2,132,674. Couldn’t 15k come out of that to open up some distribution channels? Or how about your £511,714 profit in 2015? Couldn’t get 15k out of there either? If not, why not? Who was stopping you? Why was ACE’s 15k so important?

It’s the same question again, why does Frieze apply for ACE funding at all when you’re raking in enough multi million pound profits to pay for it all yourselves?

[Tax Avoidance]

There was no accusation that Frieze was engaged in Tax Avoidance the statement was that DSL ‘may or may not be engaged in the entirely legal process of corporate tax avoidance’. You’ve stated clearly that DSL was set up in the tax haven of Jersey for the purposes of financial secrecy and not corporate tax avoidance, so that should be clear to people. Still, the trouble with keeping things ‘private from competitors’ is that they’re kept private from the public as well.

[The PPP acronym]

PPP here is used to refer to public private partnerships, not specifically the governmental kind, but public private partnerships that have emerged in the wake of policy led activity initiated since Lamont’s PFI innovation in 1992. I think it’s clear that these are rife in the art world and that Frieze (a private company) using money from ACE represents a public private partnership. In the same way that OSE in combining private funds from a number of sources with ACE, are running on the basis of a funding model predicated on PPP principles.

It’s also clear that this has become the de-facto approach, and it developed along the same temporal lines of progression I previously tracked from the 90s. In fact I was told by somebody who previously sat on the board of a major arts institution that ACE used to penalize organisations who had too much private support by reducing their grants, a dynamic that seems to runs in reverse these days.

[The grass roots issue and OSE]

There’s some confusion here again. OSE was used as an example of the newly emerged and highly professionalized charitable organisations that are distinct from the Keskidee and other grass roots organisations, but have (whether they know it or not) taken up the territory, language of engagement, and the empty buildings that were often used as those organisations bases of operation. Why not use them as examples of this?

There was no accusation of a mafia from me here, not really sure what that means to be honest. However, it is clear that strategic culture is in operation, and I’d be surprised that the personal and professional interlinks between OSE, Create and Frieze have had no bearing on positions, partnerships, or access to potential funders. Again though, none of this is a condemnation its just how you all seem to operate. In the same way that Tate have a hand in who may or may not be appointed in certain positions in institutions across the UK.

That’s good for OSE that they’re no longer involved in what is being proposed in this paragraph from the ‘Old North Woolwhich Station Project Grant’, which listed this ‘expected outcome’ of the London Borough of Newham and Create’s successful 2016 bid for ‘regeneration funds’:

‘As well as drawing in new creative businesses and professionals into the area, the project will look to forge new links between the creative businesses, resident artists and hard-to-reach members of the existing community through a series of ongoing events and intensive engagement sessions (50 cultural events and engagement sessions annually). These will be managed by Open School East, a free artists study programme with a commitment to foster cultural, intellectual and social exchanges between artists and the broader public. 16 local traders and nearby creative businesses will also be supported to grow and thrive through the creation of the hub and will benefit indirectly through the new customers the project will bring. They will also benefit from a series of marketing and business support workshops that Create and partners will provide.’

(https://www.london.gov.uk/decisions/md1651-old-north-woolwich-station)

I’m sure other conditions may have changed since then, or since the time I wrote this piece three months ago.

There was no reference to OSE relocating wholesale to London in the article.


#14

Create is a registered charity. We work with the benefit of public funding, with some sponsorship, through project partnerships and with a limited amount of individual giving. We work collaboratively with many different kinds of organisations, individuals, artists, institutions, and with the many different kinds of people who live in the neighbourhoods we work in. We work hard to try and make sure that the work we do with the communities we work with is collaborative, long term, and brings real and lasting benefits.

The relationship between art, municipal bodies, art organisations, artists and gentrification is something we are actively involved in exploring through our work and reaching a better understanding of. It’s complex, as is the relationship between where the money that keeps arts organisations functioning comes from, what they do, who is doing the work and for whom. It deserves everyone’s attention. We wouldn’t argue that everything we’ve ever done is perfect - from an artistic or any other standpoint. Working in the public realm is complex, fraught with challenges but it’s what we’re committed to, and we hope for the right reasons. For more information on our work visit one of our projects or our website or contact us directly. We’re always interested in talking more about what we do.

Hadrian Garrard
Create London


#15

Dear Morgan

Many thanks for formulating this article and its clarifying comments. It is good to hear that you have received support for the sentiments expressed. Whatever terminology and whichever examples you use to articulate the reorientation of the art world to the neoliberal agenda, this shift in ethos is palpable to those who have experienced it and undeniable by those willing to admit to it. (Anthony Davies’ Basic Instinct: Trauma and Retrenchment 2000–4 charts the evolution of much you discuss.) Some of the attempts at defence by those implicated in your article illustrate this perfectly, challenging interpretations and inferences rather than the over-riding argument.

Your diagnosis that ‘What is crucial if the practice, presentation and evaluation of art are to have a fighting chance at radical progression in the twenty-first century (in whatever form that might take) is a redress in the balance of power, and the restoration of a workable equilibrium that includes a grass roots of equal or greater strength than its now dominant new conservative’ seems valid. This grassroots must come not only from the margins of the existing art world – its ‘dark matter’ – but also from the wider population which is excluded from creative opportunity by the systemic injustices you describe. As the White Pube comment demonstrates, being a professional artist in capitalist society is an increasingly unaffordable luxury. Your allusion to the Keskidee and its efforts to ‘train, empower, support and hand over the reigns [sic] to that same citizenry’ is pertinent here. Matthew Slotover contends that ‘OSE and Create do not pretend to be grass-roots organisations like Keskidee et al, run by the communities they were set up to serve. Nor are most ACE-funded organisations’. We have to ask ourselves why this is the case, and why do so many associates programmes serve as finishing schools for those who have already accomplished professional training rather than those who cannot afford to do so. Is the formulation ‘great art for everyone’ impossibly skewed towards a narrowly defined version of the former at the expense of the latter?

The anecdote you paraphrase, by a former institutional board member, that ‘ACE used to penalize organisations who had too much private support by reducing their grants, a dynamic that seems to runs in reverse these days’ is instructive. Chin-tao Wu’s Privatising Culture illustrates the politicisation of ACE under Thatcher which has led us to the pragmatic expectation, promoted by the Freeze/frieze generation, that arts organisations ‘necessarily have the same mixed economy’.

I write this as someone who consciously rejected the ethically dubious curatorial role in favour of an analysis of infrastructures and policy, which, despite implying an engagement with state power, will hopefully lead to improvements in cultural policy.

It is reassuring to know that there is a ‘wave of socio-politically engaged, and ethically minded young artists entering the field with a civic focus and level of ethical professionalism’. They are all very welcome in Ramsgate, where we are developing ideas around participatory community arts (contact us at admin@cambiarcultura.org).

Rebecca
feeling dirty for being here


#16

Very good piece Morgan, indeed. The whiff of nineteenth century do gooding, but for nice people, at Open school East is stifling, even, or especially, with Fred Moten in paid attendance (adoration is important for this kind of thing to work, so adorable figures have to be found), But walking under the portals of the Blavatnik wing is something we should all refuse to do, boycotting Tate Modern would then become a bit like BDS given the zionist-right activities of the Blavatnik foundation. The smug participation of 90% of critical art thinkers in all of this, on the grounds of self-importance, is also scary, dull too.


#17

It is nice to read Matthew Slotover explain that he and his partners have run Frieze ‘prudently’. This will be heartening news to Frieze’s new owners, the US entertainment agency Endeavor (formerly WME-IMG), who, as of 17 February, owned a controlling stake in Denmark Street Ltd (DSL), the Jersey based company which owns Frieze Events Ltd, Frieze Publishing and Frieze Public Programmes.

It’s odd that, given the ongoing interest in the details of Endeavour’s stake in Frieze, Morgan Quaintance didn’t choose to flag this up, since his article is accompanied by an image of the document which details this. Endeavor’s overall control of Frieze is apparent also in the presence of Endeavour’s Mark Shapiro on the boards of all of Frieze’s UK companies.

Slotover maintains that DSL was set up ‘not to avoid tax… but to keep our finances private from competitors,’ and that further ‘we pay full UK tax on our activities, and US taxes in our subsidiary.’ Does Frieze Inc. pay ‘full’ taxes in the US? It depends what you mean. According to Frieze Events Ltd’s 2016 published accounts, it invoiced Frieze Inc. (which operates the New York fair) the sum of £1,089,948 for ‘overhead costs’. In 2015, it invoiced Frieze Inc. for £1,424,499. (Similarly, in 2016, Frieze Events Ltd invoiced Frieze Publishing Ltd (publisher of frieze magazine), for ‘overhead costs’ of £245,613 , up from £41,315 in 2015.)

What kind of ‘overhead costs’ the London art fair office can provide the New York art fair office is for Slotover and his colleagues to know, and for us to guess. But since invoicing Frieze Inc. for services would necessarily reduce Frieze Inc.'s taxable profits, it is reasonable to assume that less tax will be paid in the US. And since US corporate tax is far higher than UK tax, it makes sense to be ‘tax efficient’ in this manner. Is this ‘avoiding’ tax? In the entirely legal sense, yes it is. But for a company now majority-owned by an American corporation, it is, to say the least, questionable.


#18

PROGSERVATISM ?
[Some notes from Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism]

Indicative of the politics of the present situation and along the lines Morgan Quaintance has presented is the current shift towards Rightwing libertarianism and demagoguery across the globe: from Austria, France, Briton, Norway, and the Netherlands, to some parts of Latin America and at least half of the USA. Deeply alienated from mainstream politics the population ‘at large’ reaches for an impossible emancipatory promise not via a fundamental redistribution of wealth or expanded democratic rights, but by invoking racialized national ideologies and promises of colossal border barricades. Totalizing politics is that which convinces every citizen she or he is an autonomous individual. Equally indicative of this political paralysis is the art world’s continuous tendency to default – despite claims of allegiance with Left progressive politics– into the warm embrace of neoliberal enterprise culture. Notwithstanding the fact that overt expressions of racism, sexism, or anti-LGBTQ sentiment (though seldom classism) is forbidden by the official art world (prohibited formally I should underscore, though not always eradicated in practice), the actual art world system neither offers nor seeks any substantive alternative to capitalism. In all but name such incongruity is little more than an expression of liberalized capitalism (contemporary art’s idiosyncratic discourse notwithstanding).

We might describe this schizoid creed as progservatism in which a roster of socially progressive convictions is tethered to a foundation of managed economic conservatism. This is also why the delirium and crisis of capitalism is also the delirium and crisis of the art world establishment. Two phenomena demonstrate this oxymoronic turmoil above all others. One is the need for an ever-increasing pool of unremunerated creative labor indebted to reproducing the art world system, and the other is the robust wave of art world expansion visible today in the supercharged art market, certainly, but also in the wave of global museum construction including in nations propped-up by extremes of inequality and repressive political regimes. Within an art world system already stripped naked by ongoing capitalist crisis this barbarism/ flagrant injustice is as visible as it is blatant. Yet those who dare to object to these conditions meet with censorship, professional repudiation, and even acts of physical expulsion. For example Staff at the Louver who objected to the construction of a new museum in Abu Dhabi were preemptively fired, while members of Gulf Labor Coalition protesting the Guggenheim’s similar building plans were put on no-fly lists by the United Arab Emirates allegedly for “security reasons.” [See: High Culture / Hard Labor eds Gulf Labor/Andrew Ross, OR Books, 2015.]


#19

Came to this a bit late… It rings true, in general, to me. I would have liked to have heard much more about the alternative strategies. There needs to be a pulling together and vitalising of relatively isolated independent or autonomous initiatives. I went to a couple of museum visits led by The Exhibitionist recently - she is someone worth watching.
For myself, it’s always been (over last 50 years) the unfunded and particularly open artists collectives that are least channelled by those mostly invisible directives that seep down from the higher echelons of the Art Hierarchy. And it is these formations that are most ignored by critical feedback and then Art History. Glad to see you mention the class element in this - again to my mind essential.
I drives me nuts that ‘we’ The Underlings, cannot publish an effective rebuttal of the British Cultural Establishment (both state and commercial) - they are so complacent and primly ensconced in their privileged. Stefan Szczelkun