In conjunction with the sporting events of next summer, the Cultural Olympiad will attempt to showcase Britain’s artistic talents. Although there will be no medals on offer, an idea the organisers toyed with, competition has been fierce with great deliberation over which artists will represent the creative minds of Britain and honour the endeavours of the athletes.

…names recognisable to even the most diehard of 400m relay fans…

The committee has selected regional commissions from new and emerging artists whose works are rooted in community involvement. However, it is not these events, organised and executed by relative unknowns, that are on the lips of every culturally aware Briton in the lead up to the Olympics; it is instead the exhibitions and shows that are taking place in the country’s greatest institutions.

National Treasures vs. Tabloid Sensations

Shows at the RA and National Portrait Gallery of Hockney and Freud are very safe bets in terms of ticket sales – these are names recognisable to even the most diehard of 400m relay fans and the choice of these artists is verging on the tiresome and overly conservative. Hockney and Freud are now rightly regarded as national treasures and fit neatly into an RA exhibition schedule but, with the exception perhaps of Hockney’s iPad paintings, we see little reflection of Stratford and Britain in the 21st century.

We are left with the Tate to be the face of British art in 2012 and its choice to present an expanded retrospective of Damien Hirst. What he lacks, at times, in critical acclaim, he mores than makes up for with his position as one of the most ambitious, lively and economically aware artists of the past few decades. His playful boyishness appeals to those who first saw his work plastered across the tabloids, while his conscious adherence to the principles of postmodernism and neo-conceptualism provides something for the art crowd to contemplate.

…one of the first works of Art to have the sponsors name in its title.

Corporate Orbit

Hopefully this will distract from Anish Kapoor’s painfully conceived ArcelorMittal Orbit to be located in the Olympic Park, perhaps one of the first works of art to have the sponsors name in its title. A curious combination of sculpture, monument, platform-based viewing gallery and conference centre, Kapoor is competing with the London Eye and the Gherkin on terms of megastructures that come to dominate the city’s skyline. It is telling that the work has been subjected to little sustained critical debate that doesn’t begin to consider the revenue from ticket sales and merchandise, particular on the part of the Olympic Park Legacy Company. This peculiar frame of red steel alerts us to the wonders of modern engineering and art’s frequent reliance on commerce, but sadly little else.

To see British Art’s finest then head no further than the Tate.


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