ArtExposed by Julian Spalding

Daniel Benshana

Julian Spalding writes that art often begins as a surprise and his reminiscences are peppered with the word, surprise at what he sees, surprise at what artists say, surprise being used as a synonym for delight. He also says an artist is a maker first, not a thinker and here I disagree: it is fairly futile to try to suggest rules for the making of art (though I just did) as there will always be exceptions. I would never say an artist is a thinker first and a maker second because I know brilliant artists who defy the rule.
That said anyone in a position to make or break careers should have some definitive ideas because that makes them worthwhile to work with for some artists.
Spalding’s career spanned the decades when art became more of a commodity than cultural commentary, although the change itself is a statement of the degrading of culture and as such a commentary of its own.
But even then as curator of the Gallery of Modern art, Glasgow he had to look towards footfall and bemoans not showing David Bowie whom he describes as being ‘ suspended somewhere between adolescence and adulthood’ and whose art in the opinion of this writer, is not worthy of an exhibition. It is fascinating but not surprising to know that Nick Serota publicly declared that Beryl Cook will never be seen in the Tate. It is good to know that Serota despite some other public comments, does have his own taste. However we all know had her paintings sold for £1million each she would have had a show in the Tate.
Reviewers have called Julian Spalding a maverick but he is a champion of drawing which places him in the centre of art history in the west, those who have dispensed with it are the mavericks and the immature chaos of contemporary art is their creation. A place where there is no room for detailed writing about art is not about art at all: it is about celebrity and commodity as Julian Spalding comments almost in his first chapter.
It is interesting to read he was told finding genius in a garret was a myth and London knew everyone they needed to know, just before he went looking and found the shy Francis Davison and the intricate war drawings of Martin Handford now selling for a great deal. There is great honesty throughout this book; why the David Hockney retrospective never happened, his argument with Ian Hamilton Finlay which ruined a show and his run-in with Terry McCarthy.
And there is humour. We are so used to just seeing shows that maybe we don’t write enough about the mechanics of the process from idea to exhibition. It is a process filled with pitfalls and ego and as in all things, timing means more than excellence.
Reading another person’s successes and failures has never been a particularly interesting pastime of this writer but Julian Spalding without trying, makes his love of the visual experience infectious despite the negatives and not only because of the successes. He is a man in love with his work and without doubt most readers will enjoy some of his experiences.
It is certainly a book most art students should read as they embark on their journey as working artists.

Art Exposed by Julian Spalding.
Pallas Athene 2023
ISBN: 978 1 84368 240 0