News from London: Michael Craig-Martin quits Waddington’s, and Douglas Gordon and Mat Collishaw leave the Lisson

In the meantime, ignore false reports of a Britart movie


Michael Craig-Martin goes solo

After more than 20 years as a Waddington artist, Michael Craig-Martin has confirmed that he is now no longer with the gallery. “The reason why I decided to go is because—although Waddington’s have always dealt in both modern masters and contemporary artists—the focus of the gallery has been much less on the contemporary in the last few years” Mr Craig-Martin told The Art Newspaper. "Although Leslie Waddington was very disappointed by my decision, he accepted it with good grace, and we’ve parted amicably.”

Craig-Martin also states that his departure from Waddington’s had much to do with the decision of Hester van Roijen to leave the gallery, where she had been responsible for bringing in and working with younger painters such as Lisa Milroy, Ian Davenport and Zebedee Jones. “When Hester van Roijen, with whom I had worked very closely, decided to go, I decided that it was an appropriate time for me to go too,” he states.

Although there will surely be no shortage of offers for the man who not only enjoys an international reputation for his own paintings but who is also credited with mentor status for the Hirst generation of Goldsmiths' artists, Craig-Martin insists that has no new gallery waiting in the wings at this time. “Hester is currently managing my affairs and I haven’t made any definite plans yet. I need to think carefully before making any decision.”

Collishaw goes East

However a decision has been made by Craig-Martin’s former student Mat Collishaw, who has been dealerless (in the UK at least) since leaving the Lisson Gallery at the end of last year. He is now working with Modern Art in Shoreditch, and his debut there is just one of the three shows that Collishaw is opening in the East End this month (see p.44).

“The gallery is a kind of frame and it was like trying to put a white steel frame on a Rubens, or sticking a gilt frame on a Mondrian,” declares Collishaw, who is himself known for often dramatic re-presentations of Old Master works. “The Lisson Gallery space is designed for sculptures to bask in natural light, and so it seemed rather perverse for me – seeing as how all my work is projected – to be blacking it all out.” With this artist, it seems that size is not everything, although all of Modern Art’s modest exhibition space could fit into just one of the Lisson’s purpose built galleries, for Collishaw, the small scale of Modern Art was a positive factor. “It’s good to work with someone my own age and social group; it’s a much smaller organisation and we’re each helping each other to get somewhere and to grow at the same time, which is great.”

Radical Art at the BM

Forget the quality of the stonework, put aside the gripes about the Great Court, there are currently more radical activities afoot at the British Museum. These come courtesy of the BM’s newly formed Contemporary Art and Culture Programme which aims to enable the most experimental contemporary practitioners to engage with this most venerable of institutions. At the helm is enterprising young curator James Puttnam, who already has a history of shaking things up. As a curator in the BM’s Egyptian department he organised the memorable 1994-95 “Time machine” in which artists such as Marc Quinn and Andy Goldsworthy were integrated with the permanent collection in the Egyptian Gallery, and last summer he was responsible for Sarah Lucas’s dramatic sculptural interventions in the Freud Museum. However he is now keen to stress that “The new programme is not based around exhibitions; it has a lot of other sides to it. We want to work with artists in the collection, but not in the usual ways.”

There has already been an action-packed, all-day public conference on the human image, during which Sarah Lucas used melons and a chicken to create improvised sculptures on the stage, while Gavin Turk presented a hot-from-the-hospital account of the birth of his third child, and Antony Gormley unleashed some vigorous criticism on the curator of the BM’s current “Human image” exhibition. Among other conference participants was the dancer-choreographer Michael Clark who, under the aegis of the Contemporary Art and Culture Programme, has just taken up a two month residency at the BM.

But, in keeping with this new programme, it is a residency with a difference. “I thought rather than do something predictable, like get a visual artist in and invite people to watch them, like some sort of animal in a cage, I would find a space in the museum where Michael can practise and develop ideas around the sculpture in whatever way he wants,” says Dr Puttnam. “He has complete access to the collection and a private room to work in. He might video certain things; he might collaborate with a visual artist; it’s really up to him. He doesn’t have to do a performance.”

Also currently infiltrating parts of the BM most artists never reach, is Portuguese-born, London-based João Penalva, who, with the aid of a Sci-Art grant, is working on a project based on the BM’s conservation department. “We have a huge research laboratory and he’s been observing them observing and conserving the objects, and also documenting the objects themselves and their history through the collection” says Puttnam. “João is representing Portugal at this year’s Venice Biennale and we hope there will some kind of installation at the BM later in the year.”

No YBA the movie

The 90s London artworld may already be captured under glass at Tate Modern’s “Century city” show, but it has yet to make the silver screen. Contrary to reports both in the national press and February’s Art Monthly, all rumours of a YBA movie, scripted by artist-curator-author Danny Moynihan and directed by John Maybury, are without foundation. While John Maybury cast some of the key names of 90s British art — Gary Hume, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing — as Bohemian bar flies in his 1998 Francis Bacon movie “Love is the Devil”, he told The Art Newspaper that “He hadn’t got a clue” where this rumour came from. In any case, Maybury’s hands are currently more than full with the tempestuous subject of his latest film, the 16th-century poet-spy Christopher Marlowe.

Danny Moynihan is similarly puzzled. “A film script of my novel Boogie woogie is being developed by an independent production company, but that is all set in Manhattan, not London,” he said. “A few figures of British art make appearances, but that is all.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Michael Craig-Martin quits Waddington’s'