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The story so far: Stewart Home introduced a recent article attacking critical support for 'yBas' with the terse statement, 'Contemporary art simultaneously produces, and is produced by, the social forms it serves to legitimate'1 There is not much more to say on the subject then? Game over. Re-wind to six years ago. At the turn of the decade Stewart Home, along with several other artists, organised an art strike against a system that divided people into artists and non-artists. For half a decade he neither produced nor commented on contemporary art in an attempt to dismantle the cultural apparatus; even though Home achieved a relative notoriety by publishing potent novels about class anger and including excessive acts of sex and violence, he remained steadfastly silent in the field of the visual arts.

However, in the last year and a half Home has twice exhibited a bed, humorously dramatising his time spent on strike as one long lie-in. Then, signalling that his industrial action was well and truly over, Home exhibited Vermeer II at workfortheeyetodo, an artwork consisting of 22 framed, black and white photocopies of the Dutch master's paintings. Home furnished his grainy details and his blurred and stretched images with a variety of finishing touches: areas of red paint created a series of cheap formal jokes and tricks, imparting Vermeer II with the appearance of a homage to Richter and Polke while Vermeer's milkmaid acquired a halo and the girl with the pearl earring had her lips painted red. Home, of course, hasn't turned into one of those sad Richter sycophants, his heart is closer to Asger Jorn and it was in the spirit of the Situationists that Home produced these images.

Unfortunately, if the style of Vermeer II was familiar, then so were the ideas that framed the work. In a text accompanying the exhibition, the artist claimed that his application of red paint had transformed the copies into unique artworks, allowing him to inflate his prices. Home delivered a final kick to the bollocks of contemporary art by further stating that the amount of framed prints a collector wished to buy would adversely affect the cost of individual works. The cost of buying one work was £25 but two works would cost a £100 and so on. The price for entire series was a modest £10,505, 359, 093,600.

While Home is an easy target for ridicule in the current hegemony of a liberal culture seldom troubled by dissent, it must be said that Vermeer II was ineffective. It was not so much the smug rhetoric of Vermeer II that made it such an unsatisfactory piece: instead it was the safe and bureaucratic format of Home's fourth-hand Conceptualism that proved so disappointing. Perhaps it is inevitable that Home's blunt position leads to a practice of producing art only about art and its institutions. The problem with this approach is that it leaves any audience high and dry in the space of the institution itself, with nowhere else to go: a process that can only strengthen the authority of institutions and, in the case of Vermeer II, reinforce the dominance of the canon.

Curiously, it was just this type of dead-on-arrival art that some of the newer art practices, attacked by Home in his recent article, attempted to escape or critique. While some artists may have been motivated by a fear of becoming boring, some were dissatisfied by the aestheticisation of politics and theory that escalated at the beginning of the decade. This could be one interpretation of the recent work produced by some young artists who, at present, appear to lack a commitment to the big issues still occupying Stewart Home: issues seemingly abandoned in favour of irresponsibility, or a philistinism, as John Roberts and Dave Beech have claimed in their recent criticism.

In the end, what makes Vermeer II so unsatisfactory is that Home's dull critique appears symptomatic of the continuing absence of a dynamic or cutting voice from the left in the visual arts. In fact the most interesting responses to the Postmodern professionalisation and commodification of art and theory have come from the very practices that Home would dismiss as sharing an entrepreneurial spirit similar to that exhibited by Damien Hirst. Stewart Home's Vermeer II produced only a feeling of weariness, making his beds appear more and more attractive.

1. Stewart Home, 'The Art Of Chauvinism In Britain And France', everything issue 19. Home's article was written in response to 'Mad For It', John Roberts, everything issue 18.

Published in Art Monthly 200, London October 1996.

Back: To Transvalue Value: Vermeer II by Stewart Home

Next: Letter from Stewart Home to Art Monthly of 8/10/96


Vermeer II (series) by Stewart Home (1996)

Vermeer II by Stewart Home

Vermeer II by Stewart Home

Vermeer II by Stewart Home

Vermeer II by  Stewart Home

Vermeer II by Stewart Home

More images from Vermeer II on previous pages.