Friday, 7 August 2009

lucky kuntz [gregor muir]

A couple of years ago, whilst researching Brit Art for Mr Blue, people told me I should 'speak to Gregor', because Gregor was there. He knew where the bodies were buried. So I called him up, in his office, finding it surprisingly easy to get through to him. I could have sworn that he got up and went to shut the door, before coming back to the phone. He then proposed that, rather than do the research ourselves, we should buy the rights to his memoirs, which he was in the process of writing.

The idea was given short shrift, largely because there was scarcely any budget for a researcher, let alone the payday Mr Muir presumably anticipated. Fast forward a couple of years and those memoirs have now been released. However, the bodies remains securely under lock and key.

Researching the YBA scene (as it does not like to be called by any of the artists, who are keen now to negate any notion of 'a movement') one quickly comes across the vast power wielded by Damian Hirst. Hirst is not just a former friend to most of the artists, he has also now become a patron in his own right. People don't like to run the risk of offending him, and lips are kept tightly sealed. One prominent figure in the movement's history seemed so paranoid as he spoke to us, it was as though he expected to be hauled away at any moment by the art police. Muir appears to be no exception to this rule. He no doubt has stories to tell, but you can almost feel him clumsily trying to find a way around having to say anything that might be too scandalous. This makes for the most insipid of memoirs and suggests its very hard for an insider to write an account of a group he or she has been a part of.

Furthermore, in the somewhat predictable account of lost alcoholic nights, the narrator exudes a kind of vacuousness which permeates everything he discusses. At one point two or three people he knows die, and he says that he fears the onset of depression. However, this is staved off less than a week later by Muir deciding to wear a sarong and go out and drink as much vodka as he can. In no time at all he's right as rain. At the end of the memoir, Muir briefly suggests that he had to make his break from 'the artists' and forge a new direction, but the notion of Muir having any kind of a crisis seems far fetched; he has landed on his feet in the groovy groovy art scene, and there will be more parties, of that we can be sure.

All of which only has any real significance when thinking about the value of the art which these artists produced. Hirst for example, claims to be creating works of seriousness, which comment in some way on the human condition; and death. It generally feels as though his art treads a line between knowing showmanship and potential genius. Is he an artist who is truly grappling with the great themes (no matter how jovially); or is he a quack doctor, providing a gullible public with what he knows they want: the finest ad man of them all. Reading Hirst's multiple interviews with Gordon Burn, his Boswell of choice, one might be inclined to believe the former; but reading Muir's book describing his vision of the world wherein these works were hatched, one might be inclined to suspect the latter.

Gregor Muir's book does few favours to the artists on whose coat-tails he has risen to a comfortable life. It lacks the boldness to reveal any insights that will surprise anyone; be those insights intellectual; or merely those of a fly on the wall during the course of one of the more intriguing moments in recent London art and socio-cultural history.

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