News from London: Battersea gets its shots and Michael Jackson is barred from RA

Maggi Hambling’s portrait of the singer is rejected from the Summer Show, while Tracey Emin goes on the wagon


G&G condemn Britain as tasteless

Gilbert & George may have been embraced by the establishment, but the sexagenarian enfant terribles show no sign of changing their provocative ways. In a recent interview, not only did the cheeky duo unveil a new body of work devoted to the unwholesome subject of pubic lice (which they implied had been personally supplied), but they also claimed to have sold only one picture in the UK over the past 10 years. When pressed as to who bought their work, G&G replied “Italians and French, Belgians, Japanese and Americans. People of taste.” Not perhaps the most diplomatic comment from the artists invited to be Britain’s representatives at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

Pop star scandal at Summer Show

Another member of the artistic community currently confirming that it is not just the youngsters who are capable of stirring up trouble is the redoubtable Maggi Hambling. The good burghers of Sussex seaside town Aldeburgh are still divided over her 12-foot high scallop shell sculpture which was installed on the seafront to commemorate composer Benjamin Britten last November, and now Hambling has split the ranks of the Royal Academy over her controversial portrait of beleaguered pop star Michael Jackson who is currently awaiting trial on nine charges, including “administering an intoxicating agent” to a child. Inspired to paint a portrait emphasising the vulnerability of a figure whom she believes to be both innocent and victimised, Hambling wanted somewhere suitably public to display it. She approached RA President Philip King who encouraged her to submit the work to this year’s Summer Show. However, Royal Academician Anthony Green (known for painting his wife in erotic mises en scène) violently objected to the work and was supported in his disapproval by Summer Show co-curator Allen Jones (whose iconic fetishistic furniture was so memorably featured in Kubrick’s film “The clockwork orange.”). Despite a ringing endorsement from the exhibition’s other curator David Hockney and the initial encouragement of the RA’s President, the detractors prevailed and Hambling’s Jackson was duly rejected.

Book early for Basel

If planning to visit Art Basel, it pays to book your hotel early, as Mark Saunders and Emma Reeves discovered to their cost. The duo, who were acting as emissaries for hyper-trendy publications Dazed and Confused and Anothermagazine (which were two of the Fair’s media sponsors), were delighted to find at very short notice what sounded like a very cosy hostelry just a short distance from the city centre. Yet on arrival, joy turned to dismay with the discovery that they had in fact checked into a local old people’s home which was renting out a couple of empty rooms for the duration of the fair. However, some of the specialist facilities—most notably the mechanical stairlift—in fact turned out to be rather useful after a evening’s imbibing and revelry: although hopefully the plastic undersheets also thoughtfully provided by the management were not needed.

The artworld upgrades its underwear

First encountered by Jetsam at the appropriately named PEER gallery, and currently doing the rounds of the London art world is a new form of cumulative mail activity: the knicker exchange. This is not some pervert collective but a light-hearted way for us art chicks to up our knicker supplies. Participants (no pun intended) include art writer Sally O’Reilly and performance artist Hayley Newman who have each sent off a brand new pair of their knickers (with tags still attached: very important) to an appointed recipient and then circulated the knicker-spreading information to six others. The principle is the same as a chain letter, but rather than promises of fortune or nasty threats of doom, the idea is that 36 new pairs of pants, each in the correct size and appropriate style, will miraculously wing their way to each person taking part. The downside (backside?) being that perhaps a wider circle than one might have preferred now has a rather too intimate knowledge of the dimensions of one’s backside.

Vera Lutter needs a steady hand

As the construction work that promises to turn the long-neglected roofless London landmark Battersea power station into a luxury complex of hotels, spas, restaurants and even a concert hall gradually kicks into action, German artist Vera Lutter is spending her summer inside the epic structure of this former generating station. However, although Ms Lutter, who will be showing the fruits of her labours at Gagosian Gallery later in the year, is no stranger to derelict buildings, working in one that is already in the process of being massively renovated is proving to be somewhat problematic. Her enormous photographs, made using a giant, room-sized pinhole camera, each consist of exposures that can last up to two weeks, during which time, no vibrations can take place without jeopardising the exposure. Now that’s a challenge for any building site.

Whither Albion?

The sprawling former village of Battersea is one of the capital’s more amorphous areas and certainly not known as a mecca for contemporary art. However this has not stopped the ever-energetic Michael Hue-Williams from opening “Albion”, his 11,000 square-foot new gallery, which is housed in a glistening Norman Foster-designed new-build development of the same name. However, for fear of scaring off the notoriously location obsessed art world, Mr Hue Williams has taken pains to avoid the B-word: the publicity material describing his new space declares Albion to be “opposite Cheyne Walk in London” which indeed it is—just with rather a large stretch of water in between.

Tracey Emin banishes herself to Room 101

More confirmation that Tracey Emin is setting aside her bibulous ways comes from the discovery by Jetsam that one of the items that she wishes to consign to Room 101 (her participation in the popular BBC TV show, in which celebrities offer up their pet hates to be consigned to oblivion, is to be screened in September) is her former drunken self.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Michael Jackson barred from RA'