Nicholas Serota Artsnight

Nicholas Serota

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to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.


We live in a moment of global crisis, great uncertainty and at


such a moment you ask yourself, does contemporary art really matter? Of


course it matters to me, not just because I am director of the Tait


for 27 years but because in a way my life has been shaped by contact with


artist, by contact with the work they have made. I understand the


world as much richer place than I think I would have done if I had not


been engaged in contemporary art. I can also understand why people ask


the question and I can also understand what it feels like not to


know. I can remember coming into this


space in 1993 and in the centre were great turbine, water was dripping


in, the place had been empty and unused for 15 years.


In fact, there was an application in for it to be demolished.


But to me, it just had incredible potential.


In the last 15 year, we have seen some really memorable installations


in this space. Works of art that enormously excited


the public imagination. And yet we stand here, on the point


of opening the new Tate modern, the extended Tate modern with many


people still doubts that contemporary art really does matter.


And I want to explore with some artist, I want to visit one or two


places, where it seems to me contemporary art is thriving and


really playing a valuable role in the community.


We are passing through Huntingdon and getting close to Lincolnshire


and it's rolling countryside. The trees are just budding into blossom.


And it's a brilliant spring day. As we travel north.


I am escaping London, heading to the town of Middlesbrough.


We have had seven or eight years of constraint in central Government


funding, and the cuts in Local Authority funding are really


beginning to bite. What does it mean to have a contemporary art facility


in the centre of a town that faces really serious social and economic


challenge, what part can that museum play? What contribution can it make


to life in Middlesbrough? In its heyday, Middlesbrough was a


thriving steel and chemicals town with a bustling port. Today the loss


of industry has led to high levels of unemployment. It has the highest


levels of asylum seeking residents in the country. Art should work in


every day life. I shouldn't be a special thing, it should permeate


everything we do. Alistair Hudson spent ten years as a


director at griez dale arts in Cumbria, pioneering efforts to make


art that would be of value to the rural community. You shouldn't try


and create Utopia, we shouldn't try and expect that we can remake the


world anew, you should work with what you have got.


How are you? Good to see you too. Mima, or the Middlesbrough institute


of modern art opened in 2007. So Alistair, you have been here for


about 18 month, so why come to Middlesbrough? In a way, most of the


world is like Middlesbrough. Not many places are like London, New


York or Paris, most of the world is like this. So in a way if we are


going to find way for art to work in society, surely you should try it in


ordinary places rather than extraordinary places.


Mima has a collection of hundreds of works dating from 1900 to the


present. Both fine art, and ceramics. The tradition of a gallery


in its Victorian sense as you put the great art in the building, and


you sort of encourage people to come and somehow they are better for it.


You pay homage The collections become a tool in part of this bigger


programme of social change. With a place like Mima, rather than


try and follow what everyone is doing, really have this opportunity


to experiment, and put Mima and Middlesbrough and Teesside on the


map for doing something new. Unlike most sculptures these are a


means to another end. They are made by a cocoa plantation


workers in Africa. . The sculptures are made in the Congo on the


plantation, from Congo river mud, and they are 3-D scanned and


exported to Amsterdam, they are printed and then they are cast in


solid chocolate, chocolate from the plantation, sponsored by one of the


largest chocolate manufacturers in the world and these sculptures are


sold through the art market, through museums like this, and we are trying


to acquire this sculpture for our collection and the money from the


sales goes back to the community. To bring in a sustainable income,


for the community but also to fund sustainable agricultural projects


and community projects in the village. The art really is more than


an exhibition, the art is using the exhibition the museum as a vehicle,


but the real project is the process, in a way this exhibition is the


beginning of a relationship with Martin's, the initiating artist


where we can begin to development projects here in Middlesbrough or


relate some of the issues we have here, with the decline of


manufacturing, with issues Roundhousing, migration, and we can


start to make that part of a wider conversation through other projects.


Middlesbrough does not have Congolese mud to make sculpture, but


it is rich in clay, which was once the basis of a thriving local


ceramics industry. We are looking to restart this


industry and we are working with Emily and James. We are in


Middlesbrough. You looking for Middlesbrough clay.


This is a workable clay body and one that we make ceramics with.


They set up a workshop teaching people how to make ceramic, to


create a social enterprise that creates an economy, and also creates


a sense of community through the things we make.


Museums are one of the few places in society where the public now


congregate, where they can meet each other, where they can have shared


experiences and I wonder how you are thinking of a dancing the building


and developing the potential of this building? So what I wanted to do, is


not to do away with the art or the collections but to change the


emphasis or rebalance the institution, so that in effect our


main programme is the education, the community work, the cafe, the public


programmes, and the collections and the Galleries service that agenda.


Another regular users of the building is Street Wise Opera they


use people that, this is their space, they come every Friday, they,


where they rehearse, this is a charity that is really working with


people who have experienced homelessness or dealing with issues


round it. Joanne that lives in Middlesbrough


and performs with Street Wise Opera. The public can't get access to the


likes of this, so it's a privilege to get into somewhere like this. Her


encounter with Mima led to a job at the museum and privileged access to


its diverse permanent collection. Though its collection is less


central to Mima's new service, it still contains works which can


inspire. When I first came in here, I had a


look round, I wasn't too interested in most of the pictures, but there


was one actually that I actually did like and it is this one, the Lowry


painting. What drew you to it? It makes me feel like everything's


happened there, is happening again now. I mean the woman here, she


looks like she is looking for somewhere to live. These are really


strange dogs here They look like they need something to eat. That


looks to me like a homeless man, doesn't know where he is. Likely. A


lot of the paintings in here, I think that is what they do. They


capture the artist's emotions and rather than them hold them in, they


let them out on canvas. And I think that is why that one


more so than any drew me in. I think I is amazing you see things this


this painting I would not have seen, Jo. Partly because of your


experience but I think you see it as very contemporary image as well as


being from 70 years ago. That is one of the great things about art, isn't


it. We all experience it in different ways, according to our own


history and our own... That's it. Experience of life. You probably see


something more, or different to what I see in the picture. Probably, I


will think of this painting as being part of your private collection and


you have kindly lent it to Mima. An enterprising community group


called IPC, investing In People and Culture has has tapped into the


agricultural skills of migrants and asylum-seekers, they have prepared a


special lunch for me, it was formed by a man who works in partnership


with Mima. They supply the museum with locally grown food for special


events. The food today that we can supply to Mima, and some of the


ingredients in particular, the garlic is harvested that we made


last year. I came from Eritrea, back in early 2001. As a refugee, as an


asylum seeker, I was a political prisoner for just over three months,


before fleeing the country, as a political prisoner, for simply


expressing my point of view in politics, and it put me in great


danger. We have in Middlesbrough a thousand asylum-seeker, good


proportion of those are because they have expressed their political view.


Why do you want to be associated with something which is perhaps by


other people seen as a testimoniable of the arts We thought... Joining us


is the former mayor and ex policeman Ray Mallon.


He pushed for ten years to get Mima built. To be fair to the Government


they have so many conflicting priorities can I forgive them for


for getting about the art, if you went to the Government what is your


biggest priorities they would be saying public borrowing, the


themselves building one million houses, terrorism and so on and so


forth. And art might be number 20, 25. Mima was a key ingredient in his


plan for the economic regeneration of the town. Out of the many


organisations that art supposedly to be public service, Mima opens its


doors and welcomes people to use it, for everyone to hold their meetings,


to see films, just to be able to get in, makes you as a newcomer, that


you are part of the town. This is in the Civic Centre of Middlesbrough,


of Teesside. In a way this is a shared resource for everybody to


use. And I think that is particularly unique about buildings


like this. Middlesbrough raises a host


of questions about the role of government and the relationship


between public money Who better to ask than the man


who holds the UK purse strings? You said in the Autumn Statement


that we are brilliant at culture in this country and that investment


in the arts is one of the best And I think I from an early age


was lucky enough to appreciate all that Britain has to offer


the world in terms of its theatre, its painting and sculpture,


its film production. There is something


about the British. We are a bit irreverent


of authority. And that has led to some brilliant


art over many, many centuries. I've been in Middlesbrough recently


and obviously you go to a place like Middlesbrough, which is facing


really serious economic pressures and you meet people who are having


to make choices between spending money on social services or spending


any money on the arts. Every area has to make its own


choices, but what I have tried to do is provide government support


to local areas that have got When you are meeting local


politicians who are having to make these choices, what can


you do to encourage them? You are not suddenly going to find


additional central Some areas have been very smart


about using a big contemporary art space or a new museum as the sort


of centrepoint of the redevelopment If you let local areas keep


the taxes they generate locally as we are increasingly


doing in this country, they can see that direct benefit


for their communities. But Mima, some of the


projects they are doing are seen as in some way filling


the gaps, gaps that have been left Do you think the arts should have


to justify itself in those terms? Well, I think it is a mistake


to assume the state What often art can do is fill


in the spaces, the gaps, It's the mixture of the artist,


the art institute, as well as the school and social


services or whatever that creates You think that contemporary art can


do more than simply bring As Chancellor of the Exchequer I


quite often get people like you coming into my office


and saying, this is a good economic And yes, of course,


there is a strong economic But there is also art


for art's sake and I, as someone who has grown up in this


country and appreciated the arts in this country,


thinks that's the most I'm no good at drawing or playing


a musical instrument. But the experience of at least


having tried to do those things In a New York City lobby,


near Rockefeller Center, is a two-panel installation created


by Mark Bradford, His epic scale paintings,


which hover at the edge of abstraction, are often built up


from dense layers of paper fragments taken from street


ads and billboards. The LA neighbourhood where Bradford


grew up and currently has his studio was partially burned


down by protest in 1992, when white police officers


were acquitted of beating a black Some of the goals that Mima


is attempting to accomplish as an institution, Mark Bradford


is pursuing as an individual. In LA in 1992, so many buildings


were burnt out and they put up There was so much paper, I think


that is why I started using it. You could just go and pull down


blocks and blocks and It was like a free department


store of materials. He has recently been chosen


to represent America at the 2017 The social fabric in South Central


in the early '90s was obviously enormously influenced


by what happened in '92 So how did those dramatic eruptions


manifest themselves in your work? And the memory of that,


how they manifest in my So that the crisis would not


overtake me as an artist. I would look for a detail that was


loaded enough that I could point, but not so loaded I could not also


talk about abstract painting. The painting scorched earth from 2006


reflects a city torn apart by racial violence. When we say South Central


now it has a -- an area that was constructive around hip-hop. This


film depicts the dominant stereotype of life in South Central LA in the


1980s and 90s. I realised there was so much language and rhetoric and


narrative and stereotypes around the idea of south-central that how was I


going to navigate this space? I was not interested in a work that was a


spokesman for any so I thought I would keep it as abstract artist who


looks out. Many of the paintings made in the 2000s have a sense of


almost an aerial view of the city, a sense of you being there, but also


being slightly detached. Is that how you see your relationship with


south-central? It is not how I see my relationship with south-central,


but how I see my relationship with almost everything. Artists tend to


be detached, standing on the fringe and observe things. Move close and


moved back stock I have always been that way. I do not mind going into


the middle of the burning house and standing in the street and looking


at the burning house. No fire extinguisher? No. You always want


the house to burn! Bradford spent much of his time as a child in a


beauty salon owned by his mother in South LA and also worked there as a


hairdresser before and after attending art school in Los Angeles.


I was trying to look for a conceptual framework that I could


join the kind of social, the urban, with abstract painting. I thought,


what if I use map is that have to do with civilisation? It is loaded. A


map can be a loaded document. And start to break it apart, so that it


becomes an abstract painting, yet the social fabric still clings to


the edges. That was me starting from material that was social and pushing


it into abstraction. When you make these paintings that start in this


disadvantaged area of LA, they are almost heroic scale, and they are


bought by people for increasingly large sums of money, how do you feel


about those paintings coming out of that part of LA and hanging in a


great Manhattan apartment? That part you have less control over and it is


no use obsessing over it. You can have conversations about


theoretically, aesthetically and politically what is important to you


but I control what I can control, which is in the studio. I am


happiest in the studio because that I can control. What has come out of


the studio has made me actually successful monetarily. Works by Mark


Bradford are in great demand in the art market. Recently one of his


paintings sold at auction for close to $4 million. On the back of his


art world success, Bradford has established a foundation called art


and practice. Its 20,000 square feet of space in south-central is used in


part as an exhibition space for contemporary Art in the community.


The local community actually has access to contemporary art and ideas


in their community on the way to the store, the cleaners, on their way to


church, they can stop in and see contemporary art. It becomes the


everyday? Not something unusual? Not something unusual and something they


have to go out of the community and they have to whisper when they are


in the museum. Bradford is also allowing an entire building to be


used rent-free by the Right way foundation, a nonprofit group that


provides councillor and support for youths in the south-central area.


These are disenfranchised people with no families. So I want them to


feel they are as special as possible because the crisis is so strong.


Their lives are so delicate. That they can fall between the cracks and


turn around and they are gone. Why did anyone think art could play a


part in that process of healing, regeneration? Because I believe the


contemporary ideas is what contemporary art, at the foundation


of what we do. If you look at it through that lens, artists always


talk about the times they live in and always question, provoke,


pushing forward. It is a living animal, organism, to me,


contemporary art. I think there are so many different kinds of


contemporary art. What I think is so incredible about creativity is that


it feeds into all our beings in ways that people perhaps overlook. In her


Kent studio, Rose has been painting in relative obscurity for decades. I


love this room. I really like it. I think the light is good. Now in her


80s, her work is gaining international recognition. You just


keep at it. And let it mount up. This in fact can be quite


satisfactory because no one is criticising it, there are no


demands. You get on exactly in the way you want to. I think that is


probably a good way to do it rather than getting a lot of attention


early on. After studying painting in the 50s, Rose took time out to raise


a family but returned to painting in 1979. Her works may appear


whimsical, bold, cartoonish, capturing the unaffected innocence


of a child and speak to us directly. I like to present to the world the


kind of painting that is considered not totally acceptable painting. Her


sources of inspiration are varied. From art history to animals. From


sport, to popular culture. A serious film buff, Rose Wylie has been


inspired by the films of Quentin Tarantino. This is a wide shot. And


a close-up from a film by George Clooney. They have an agenda, a


contemporary agenda that could be political in order to have


significance, because that is what is going on. I am not sure whether


it is necessary to have that. People can have a straight emotional


response to the work, that is what I would like, because I think that is


what the painting is about. I do like to work with film stars and


footballers, because I think there is a shared interest. It is


democratising the whole thing. It is work we can engage with. One of the


things that art does is to unify everybody. Rather than being sort of


parochial pockets of interest, or cultural pockets of interest. It


crosses the boundaries of nation. Certainly it is good for the


development of the person. It can give you a reason, a purposeful


life. -- purpose for life. Contemporary art has so much to say


to us in many different forms. And with these large audiences and


contested views and new ways of thinking about the world,


contemporary art has never mattered more. I always have this dream when


I leave the Tate I will work in a small institution, miles from


London, caring for a fine collection, working very closely


with artists, realising exhibitions, and, of course, dealing with a


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