Published  05/02/2008

That wrecking tendency

The British Council has offended over 100 of Britain’s leading artists, including such luminaries as Rachel Whiteread, Peter Blake, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sir Howard Hodgkin, Gilbert and George and the Chapman Brothers, backed up by a phalanx of leading gallery directors; all have signed a letter ‘deploring’ the ‘demise’ of the British Council’s long-established and internationally acclaimed Visual Arts Department. They say that the British Council seems intent ‘… on abandoning the best proven means of conducting cultural relations, through the arts’. Notwithstanding the remarkable post-war expansion of world awareness of British visual arts (from Henry Moore onwards) the British Council helped to lift British contemporary art into the international arena, taking advantage of the period of the post-war vacuum that existed across war-torn Europe to fill the gap. The 21st-century art world faces very different media and consumerist pressures, but the British Council today has been adapted well by its staff and advisers to the changed conditions of the art world. This is a time for expansion in the field, not contraction. The revenue earning capacity of the visual arts is enormous. But where too, in all this confusion and meddling short termism, are we going? To the small shaded Costa coffee house we know, to be set up in the shell of the Biennale of the Venice British Pavilion. ‘Nice little earner’, there is already being whispered, ‘coming up soon’! It is still up to the British Council.

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