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Dr Penelope Curtis is a renowned scholar but also has a track record—as an exhibited artist


Penelope Curtis—the artist

Considerable excitement from all quarters at the news that Dr Penelope Curtis, curator of the Henry Moore Institute, is to take up the post of director of Tate Britain next April. But while everyone knows Curtis as a scholar of renown, perhaps her fans are less aware she has also been shown to considerable acclaim as an artist in her own right. Visitors to “Oysters Ain’t”, curated by artists Cedric Christie and Simon Bill in a Bermondsey biscuit factory last year were treated to a multi-generational sculptural cornucopia of some 75 works and amidst the likes of Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Wentworth and Sarah Lucas much interest was generated by a strange grid of nearly 200 tiny enigmatically abstract drawings, laid out on an old door under a sheet of glass. This was no exercise in serial minimalism but Curtis’s working drawings for a Robert Morris show she was planning for the Reina Sofía in Madrid, with each image her personal aide-mémoire sketch of a specific exhibit. Christie had spotted this aesthetically pleasing piece of curatorship by chance whilst visiting Curtis, and persuaded her to put her unintentional work of art on display. Good for Tate Britain to know that their multitasking director can simultaneously curate and create…

Farewell Gordon Burn

Nowhere has the untimely passing of novelist and writer Gordon Burn been more keenly felt than in the London art world where he both befriended and chronicled many of today’s leading figures, often from the beginning of their careers. Emotions were therefore mixed at last month’s gathering at the Wallace Collection to mark the posthumous publication of Sex & Violence, Death & Silence, Burn’s collected writings on art, which was still in progress when he died from cancer in July. It was testament to the affection which Burn inspired that several of the book’s subjects, including Gary Hume, Rachel Whiteread, Marcus Harvey and Sarah Lucas—none of whom are known for their love of public performance—were prepared to read passages from Burn’s often very personal accounts of them and their work. The only rather surprising exception to this homage was Damien Hirst, Burn’s most frequent collaborator, who, although present (and indeed a major sponsor of the event) requested that Harland Miller read Burn’s words about him, which the fellow Yorkshireman did with aplomb. Overall Hirst seemed determined to keep as low a profile as possible, as was also suggested by the somewhat surprising decision to reroute the guests so that they entered the party in the Wallace Collection’s great gallery via its Eastern end, thus avoiding the two rooms where his much-criticised paintings are on show…

Ruffling feathers at Hamlyn Awards

A warm glow of well-being always pervades the annual presentation of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Awards, the UK’s largest and best loved prize which gives five visual artists and three composers a hefty £45,000 each with no strings attached. But while everyone was very happy that this year’s lucky line-up ranged from 30-year-old Melanie Gilligan to the more mature Marc Camille Chaimowicz, there was also a distinct drop in temperature when composer and broadcaster Michael Berkeley (right) mounted the prize-giving podium to launch a coruscating critique of current arts funding. Tate supremo Sir Nicholas Serota who is also a board member of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and Arts Council chief executive, Alan Davey, were among the throng of great and good who were treated to Berkeley’s view that “the essential Olympic spirit…has been so ill considered and planned for”, and that “planning for the cultural side of the Olympics has been a complete and utter shambles—a fact that has been privately acknowledged to me not only by those who lead the cultural agenda but by senior politicians too”. It seems that even in the benign world of arts philanthropy the gloves are now off…

Bob and Rob hit the right notes

First prize for London’s most versatile and prolific artist(s) must surely go to the indefatigable Patrick Brill, aka Bob and Roberta Smith. Shortlisted for the Fourth Plinth, “they” may have lost out to Antony Gormley, but still grabbed an hour of Trafalgar Square glory when Walsall Art Gallery director Stephen Snoddy enacted their 22 Ways to Change the World by ripping off layers of slogan-emblazoned t-shirts (left). Last month found Bob ‘n’ Rob in full multimedia throttle with an extravaganza celebrating a year-long residency at Beaconsfield in South London. This night of music and art not only included the re-forming of the Ken Ardley Playboys, Bob ‘n’ Rob’s anarchic musical arm, but also showcased cult Cheshire post-punkers The Fucks. The latter especially catching the eye of audience member Dave Ball, formerly one-half of 80s synthopoppers Soft Cell, who was apparently so taken with The Fucks that he is now considering signing them for the new label he is forming under the Beggars Banquet umbrella, albeit with some nervousness at their name. Let’s hope The Fucks achieve fame with their nomenclature intact and that Bob ‘n’ Rob receive an introductory commission.

The Sweet Smell of Picpus

The mere mention of yet another new art magazine would normally have Jetsam reaching for the recycling bin, but honourable exemption must be awarded to Picpus, Charles Asprey and Simon Grant’s elegant new quarterly, which consists of a single-folded sheet, free of charge and sweet-scented into the bargain. Named after the French word for a flea bite (Pique-Puce) it provides an eclectic cultural amuse-bouche ranging from artist Merlin James’ musings on sex and picture framing to chef Mark Hix’s paeon to lobster. However the initial appeal of Picpus is olfactory rather than intellectual as the entire mag has been impregnated with a delicious fragrance created especially by master perfumer Anastasia Brozler. Entitled “Neuville,” it is inspired by a photograph taken by Asprey of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s gravestone in the cemetery at Neuville St Vaast; and yet there is nothing morbid about its aroma which uncannily succeeds in conjuring up what its maker describes as the aroma of “grass, hay and wind over stone”. Jetsam is currently campaigning for Neuville to be obtainable in bottled form and applauds the fact that there are plans to ensure that at least once a year Picpus will be the best-smelling mag in town…

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'New Tate Britain director’s artistic side'