On Friday 3rd February, the opportunity to purchase an authentic Hockey was available to everyone who could head to a newsagent, or supermarket and get their hands on a copy of The Sun newspaper, while large screens in public spaces featuring the artist’s name have been installed across Britain to promote his exhibition at the Tate Britain Gallery in London.
The Sun, a tabloid newspaper that publicly took the side of the conservative party, the government that subsequentially reduced funding to the arts by 36% according to Arts Council England, and is commonly known for celebrity gossip columns alongside topless Page 3 pictures, is a world apart from the Tate Britain, arguably one of the most well-known galleries across Europe, if not the world. Nevertheless, Hockney has chosen to unite the two by exhibiting his work in both. In the Tate it is a collection of his works spanning his career, while he redesigned The Sun logo for a one-off edition.
Various commentators, including Tess Thakara from Artsy, saw David Hockney’s contribution as an expression of support for the controversial publication that was particularly guilty of describing migrants in terms such as ‘swarms’. Although I am not a fan of the paper myself and feel that there are a lot of problems with its content, I do find the featuring to Hockey’s work on the front cover to be symptomatic of a promising trend in art, the showcasing of it in public spheres outside traditional spaces such as galleries.
Although galleries such as the Tate are open to the public, I’m sure that most people reading this can think of a few examples of people they know who would avoid a gallery because they don’t think it’s their sort of place. As one of the UK’s most popular papers, there is also a good chance that some of these people also read the publication.
In this case, Hockney’s contribution is an example of bringing art into a public space that those who would not consider themselves art fans (and those who do) consume.
With the boom in pop-ups and collaborations of illustrators and artists with clothing companies, there appears to be more opportunities for people to take in art in non-typical spaces.
Overall, I feel that this is a good things and may introduce people to artists that they then track down in traditional spaces (I’ve certainly done this with illustrators who have worked with the clothing brand Monki whose items I’ve bought). However, there is a fine line to be drawn between making art available in non-traditional settings and art been consumed only by those who can afford it, if co-opted into more commercial settings. This does not seem to be the risk the David Hockney’s work with The Sun, as a wide variety of the public can afford the price of a paper, but could be deemed to be so with a pop-up exhibition of Stanley Chow’s work that I saw over the Lunar New Year festive period.
Stanley Chow’s work is perfect for a pop-up, especially in Manchester where it was exhibited. It’s bright, graphic and incorporates much loved city references and landmarks like Beetham Tower, and a modernist building known to locals as The Toast Rack. His pieces are very appealing and reminded me of vintage postcards, and I am always a fan of his eye-catching portraits.
However, this pop-up took place in Harvey Nichols, and as I was there with my free glass of Prosecco, I couldn’t help wondering if this art could have been bought to more people.
Targeting shoppers is indeed a good tactic for reaching a more general audience, who may stumble across the gallery while browsing the store and enjoy looking at the art (maybe joining me in becoming a fan of it). But, Harvey Nichols is an exclusive store, drawing in a more wealthy clientele than other shops, meaning that many may not even enter the store let alone find out about the exhibition inside, making it more reminiscent of traditional gallery spaces that some may assume are ‘not for them’.
By briefly comparing the differing placements of Hockney’s and Chow’s work it’s easy to see some of the problems that arise when looking for non-traditional spaces to exhibit work.
Issues such as finding a place where a cross-section of people can experience the art, how closely art should be tied to commercialism, and if companies that are aligned with new spaces for art are seen as problematic by traditional art crowds and the general public.
Saying this, I do hope that more art makes in into our day-to-day lives, as I don’t feel that taking in great pieces should just be reserved for special trips to famous galleries and sometimes art can have an even greater impact when stumbled across unexpectedly.