"Cronyism is English for Corruption" reads an enormous billboard-sized poster that takes up a whole wall in Jeremy Deller’s exhibition at Glasgow’s The Modern Institute. With the British government mired in sleaze allegations as the show opens, it seems extremely timely.
‘I know! Tell me about it!", says Deller, fresh from installing. "That was made at a specific moment about how people were awarded contracts for Covid. But it just keeps going on and on, the corruption. It’s a poster that keeps on being relevant. Not that you’d want it to be, but it just is because of what’s going on."
Like many of the other works in this exhibition—which is being shown simultaneously in Glasgow and Paris—Cronyism was first shown in the street, posted guerrilla-style across the UK. It is something that Deller has been doing from the very beginning of his career, before the large-scale projects he is now best known for.
"I was unemployed and the London College of Printing [now Communication] had a deal where you could go and use their facilities for next to nothing. So that’s what I did. I began by making prints and putting them up in the street and giving them away to people. And that sort of continued weirdly, it’s something I’ve never stopped doing."
The show includes all his prints and posters from 1993 to today, from works which were multiples of two or three, up to unlimited runs. Much of his early work was concerned with music culture, from acid house to Roxy Music. The Modern Institute has been wrapped in the explicit content warning that adorned many 1990s albums.
In recent years Deller’s prints have taken on more direct political messages, often using humour. A pull-out in The Art Newspaper for Frieze London in 2019 proclaimed ‘Welcome to the shitshow’ against the backing of the Union flag. ‘Strong and stable my arse’ mocked Teresa May’s re-election campaign, while ‘Thank god for immigrants’ came in the wake of Brexit.
He has also sold editions to support charities, including one he is particularly proud of for an Australian organisation combating bushfires, which imagines Lachlan Murdoch’s Sydney mansion burning down.
But Deller is careful in his claims for how much art can make a political difference.
"Maybe outside of Europe or outside of the UK, in societies where artists have become leaders effectively. But in the UK I think it is part of a process of reinforcement of ideas that people have. It’s a way of maybe giving people comfort or making them angry or sad or happy, bringing those emotions to the fore. And with those emotions you might do something."
• Jeremy Deller: Warning Graphic Content, The Modern Institute, Aird’s Lane, Glasgow, 6 November 2021-22 January 2022
• Also at Art : Concept, Paris, 27 November 2021-15 January 2022