“I didn’t intend to write a book that would upset Lucian Freud,” said Matthew Collings, author of Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop: The London Art World From Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst .
On March 31, Mr. Collings, the 43-year-old British author and television personality, was escorted by none other than aging-rocker-turned-art-impresario David Bowie into Jeff Koons’ 10,000-square-foot loft on the corner of Broadway and Houston Street. Inside, a full-tilt art-world party was under way in honor of the publication of Blimey! and the New York debut of Modern Painters magazine, where both Mr. Collings and Mr. Bowie are contributors. Mr. Bowie, a partner in 21 Publishing Ltd., the book’s publisher, even did an eloquent reading from the book. Earlier that evening, Messrs. Collings and Bowie and London art dealer Bernard Jacobson, Mr. Bowie’s publishing partner, and Karen Wright, editor of Blimey! , were interviewed on the Charlie Rose show. But the gossipy hardcover is not only a hot item of hype. Whether he intended to or not, Mr. Collings has written a book that has rankled Mr. Freud, the grandson of Sigmund and éminence grise of the London art world.
In a glib, often laconic style that is characteristic of Blimey! , Mr. Collings rips into poor Mr. Freud beginning on page 54, and returns to him several times as a representative of “the older generation of London artists” that needs a good debunking: “The grandson of Sigmund Freud, he is the pet of the older art critics,” Mr. Collings begins innocently. “They love his myth and always retell it when they’re writing about him, as if it hadn’t been heard a million times before. There’s something stuck and boring about the world of Freud that you instinctively want to reject, without analyzing your prejudice … You reject the kind of people who go on about him, and it’s always a bit surprising when somebody you thought you knew turns out to be a Freud cult member.”
“Lucian Freud certainly is boring as far as color is concerned,” Mr. Collings continues, nailing the coffin shut, “he just does brown. But he goes on stalking the model and painting it like a surgeon and dissecting it and really looking, and all the other mythic things he’s supposed to do in his studio. So you have to hand it to him in the end. He really is a star. The main points of his myth are that he always drove everywhere in a Rolls-Royce but maintained the same old run-down studio in Paddington. He had lots of women, who were all aristocrats. And when one was used up he just got another one, and he had different children by them all, who all grew up to be novelists and TV presenters … he was skeptical about the discoveries of his grandfather, and he said life was too short for psychoanalysis.”
According to Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Freud, who is notoriously diffident, was not amused when he read those passages in Blimey! He didn’t attempt to block the book’s publication, as he has with biographers who have invaded his carefully guarded privacy. He did, however, indulge in the old London sport of snubbing Mr. Jacobson, who also owns a trendy gallery off New Bond Street that primarily shows American art stars such as Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella.
“Lucian won’t speak to me now,” said Mr. Jacobson, who recounted a strained encounter with the 75-year-old artist during which the two men locked horns. “I said to Lucian, ‘I mean, come on. I didn’t write it.’ He said, ‘You published it.’” Mr. Freud would not comment on the contretemps.
Mr. Collings, who admitted that he has never met Mr. Freud, said that the point of his book was not to put down Mr. Freud as much as it was to present a picture of the star system in the British art world. To the careful reader, though, Mr. Freud is presented as an aging counterpoint to the spry young Damien Hirst, whom Mr. Collings regards as the “main personality” to come out of the recent British art movement. He begins his book in Quo Vadis, the Soho restaurant that Mr. Hirst recently redesigned. “Now it is full of art by young people who are in Vogue or on TV all the time,” Mr. Collings notes approvingly. “Are they any good? How long will it last? Is it just a little twisted branch off the main trunk, or is it the main trunk of art, like Cézanne and Rembrandt?”
As Mr. Collings contemplated his martini “off a tabletop with a tungsten light shining through it, so it was hard to look down at your twiglets and olives without being blinded,” he surveyed the contents of the room, most of which were created by Mr. Hirst. “There were two vitrines, one boy-blue, one girl-pink, each with a partly flayed cow’s head in it. A bit further back, there was a glass cabinet with shelves lined with surgical instruments. Around me, the walls were painted handsome muted purples and grays. On them there was a painting of some cigarette butts, a photo of the artist Sarah Lucas staring blankly, smoking a cigarette …”
“For me,” Mr. Collings observed, “it is a good sign when you can’t tell it’s art.”
A Charity Is Only as Good As Its Guest List
The International Fine Art Fair, a showcase of the wares of foreign fine art galleries, has been held in the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue for five years running. The first three years of the fair, the opening-night party was a benefit for the Frick Art Reference Library. But last year, the organizers dumped the Frick–which was seen by many dealers as too staid to turn the opening night into a profitable evening–in favor of Blaine Trump’s charity God’s Love We Deliver. But when last year’s event was sparsely attended, the complaints of dealers stressed the fact that there were no buyers among those who did show up for the preview gala. So, this year, Brian and Anna Haughton, the fair organizers, have given over the operation of the opening-night affair and its proceeds to Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, a community center. And instead of the usual Absolut and duck liver, the party on May 7 is going to be a seated dinner at the Armory.
“It was a mutual decision reached between us and God’s Love,” said a spokesman for International Fairs, the show’s organizer. “Our exhibitors are our first priority, and we took their opinions into consideration. We feel we have found a successful formula for opening night with Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association.”
The party organizers have decided to decorate each table to represent a painting for sale in the exhibit. Diana Quash, president of the board of Lenox Hill whose family owns San Francisco’s Gumps department store, said she has chosen a James Tissot painting of a Japanese fan for her table. Her inspiration for an Oriental theme, she said, came from San Francisco.
The fair’s organizers are banking that the well-heeled Upper East Siders and friends of Lenox Hill who attend will be more easily swayed and buy, say, a Francesco Guardi for over the sofa. Whatever’s left will be for sale from May 8-13.