Tackling art is not my first choice; for every critic of one piece there are a hundred admirers who will fight tooth and nail to make you feel stupid and out of touch for calling something grotesque, bizarre or just plain stupid. “You don’t understand the context; the plight of the artist; the hidden message that exudes itself clandestinely” are some of the insult thrown at non-modern-art-lovers, and, usually, I, like most people, will relent and let the vanguard of the art world – history of art and art students step forward – get away with arguments where the language is very much on their side.
I draw the line with the London Olympics, specifically the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Designed by Anish Kapoor who has been featured positively in MouthLondon several times, architecturally, the wannabe skyhook looks like a tribute to buildings of 1970s to 1980s France. The exposed metalwork instantly brings up images of the Centre Pompidou and the Eiffel Tower, an analogy the promoters are sure to have meant, but, at the same time, it looks like a weak attempt at other modern towers, and its colouring gives it a 1990s UK leisure centre appeal – as though it were an addition to the Brittas Empire complex. The observatory deck itself looks like Blofeld’s Swiss hideout: shabby and dated.
…being flown round the events in priority lanes and getting better than the best treatment…
For something that was supposed to celebrate the best that London has to offer, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is a very poor example. Don’t think that I abhor national presentations of a country’s success, although, like Nationalism, they do tend to point to decadence and decline, I think that Britain did very well out of the 1951 Festival of Britain, but the Olympics this year is nothing but a crass advert that Britain enjoys wealth and loves to be seen working with big business. The Orbit is an acute sign of a social illness borne out of greed and unfettered capitalism.
The Orbit has cost £22million, split 80/20 between the ArcelorMittal and the London Development Agency, a very generous situation, until you think about the central location, right next to the Olympic Stadium. The advertising of a steel company at such a central location may seem odd as neither you nor I is going to be their customer, but the business and political elites, being flown round the events in priority lanes and getting better than the best treatment, will be affected by it. That £19million is but one small contract to a steel giant with annual revenues of over $93billion, and, I don’t doubt, a fantastic tax right off. It is an absolute insult that we will be charged £15 for the privilege of even escalating the Orbit, when the owner will generate millions of times that.
…battle the subsidence of the Stratford marshland…
It doesn’t stop there; the Olympic structures in London are likely to be knocked down unless buyers can be found, so, even though the tower is meant to stand in perpetuity, it may be got rid of in the next 5 years, with the metal salvaged and recycled by its steel tycoon owner, ArcelorMittal. It’s a far more likely outcome than trying to save a tower that will for years battle the subsidence of the Stratford marshland, and will have to compete with the much better placed London Eye – I think we all know the result of that.
Bringing this back to art, it is shocking that a modern artist, such as Anish Kapoor, wealthy beyond compare, has worked on such a commercially lucrative and socially bogus project. I believe that it is neither suitable as a legacy to him, the Olympics or to the UK. The only thing it stands for is the dark stain of greed that has corrupted this country into spending £8-9billion on two weeks that will generate 40,000 temporary jobs, alongside 10,000 permanent ones (working out at £180,000 each), and which will promote elite sport while normal school playing fields are closed at an alarming rate. It really isn’t the showcase of an artistic and creative generation, and a bright future for the UK.