The view of the GSK factory in Ulverston seen from my bedroom window
The view of the GSK factory in Ulverston seen from my bedroom window

Back up in Grizedale after a fraught week of negotiations to make some sense of the GSK Contemporary shenanegins and sure enough the critics start to pull apart the show. Ben Street’s review for Art Review  centres on the disparity between the financial might of GlaxoSmithKline and the critical framework for the GSK season and quite rightly so. But what is missing from this picture is the complex push and pull that goes on between host institution and the ‘curated’ invitees, how these shows are far messier than one would be allowed to imagine.


Our original proposal to the RA was how Toadball should be; a live artist run TV studio that produces an ongoing programme of material that critiques the host institution and the concurrent exhibits. And what rich material that is: the RA as Britain’s oldest art collective, corporate sponsorship, Middle England’s expectations, culture powerplay, the advance programme for the looming Haunch of Venison art showroom and how all this relates to our dear local culture of British Romanticism, etc etc.


But as it happens, as it often happens, the plan got squeezed and the budget got reduced to absolute zero for us whilst other bigger name exhibitors got the hot drug money.


The idea that a show like this is curated is up for debate, as it is inevitably prone to so many divergent forces. I had one discussion last week with a significant curator of a significant galley working on a significant show who found that just when they thought they had managed to eject a dodgy overblown work from the selection on cost grounds, the artist’s gallery had weighed in to stump up the deficit. No one gets round to saying says that’s shit and we’re not putting it in; not because no-ones got the balls but because no one knows who to say it to. The days of pure curation and pure criticism are over for this particular era and there has to be an element of contingency in any project. For my part I quite aspects of this messy situation in that it’s more like how the world works and leads to more complex and nuanced work that is ultimately more effective in the wider world when art has to work for its living. Grizedale’s ‘coalface’ work is with communities and political situations that won’t stand for rigid viewpoints.


In this particular case, it came down (see below) to whether we should do it or not given that we were expected to do something great (you know how art people say that word) with no money at all (although I did manage to get a contribution to travelling down and our IT programmer at the eleventh hour). Our Might Atom project manager will I am sure testify that you get dragged along by these things whilst there are so many hooks in you (see Hellraiser).