War. What is it good for? Art
The latest Turner Prize winner is leading a wave of artists inspired by conflict. Andrew Johnson reports
Published: 06 January 2008
The Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger is preparing to invade Europe with his recreation of an anti-war protest, marking the latest advance of war art on all fronts.
Wallinger’s success with State Britain, including the award of the Turner Prize last month, marks a remarkable renaissance for art based on military conflict, which is being snapped up by museums and embraced by the art establishment.
State Britain, an exact replica of the placards and photographs that made up the peace-campaigner Brian Haw‘s encampment outside Parliament Square in London, will take the installation abroad for the first time when it travels to Paris next month and then to Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the Art Fund, a charity that tries to help museums buy art, has purchased Steve McQueen’s Queen and Country for the nation. The work – books of stamps featuring the head-and-shoulder images of many of the British soldiers who died in Iraq – is being exhibited at the Imperial War Museum.
The Art Fund is also supporting his campaign to pressure a so-far-resistant Post Office into publishing the stamps for public sale.
Also at the Imperial War Museum is an exhibition of war posters, including those designed for the protests against the invasion of Iraq by David Gentleman, who has designed many of Britain’s stamps. His posters are recognisable from the single splat of blood-red-paint motif.
Then there is the Newcastle-born pop artist Gerald Laing, who was moved to create his first paintings in 30 years after the outbreak of war. His Abu Ghraib-inspired Capriccio was exhibited in London in the autumn, as was Truth or Consequences – showing Tony Blair standing next to a bombed London bus, morphing into George Bush by a burning Baghdad as the viewing angle is changed – and Repetition, which puts Warhol’s soup can next to a repeated pattern of soldiers.
McQueen, who was appointed official war artist for Iraq, but prevented from experiencing combat first hand, said: “The role of art is as a stimulant that can bring something to the table. People do get numbed through the media. If you can get in their consciousness in another way their boundaries drop… they can experience in a way they can’t through other media.”
David Barrie, the director of the Art Fund, added: “What has made it harder for artists to respond to recent conflicts is that they have been very inaccessible. The nature of war has changed, so the response of artists has to change.” And Wallinger suggested that art had the power to capture the unpalatable and hold those responsible to account: “It was like Parliament’s guilty conscience, or a mirror held up to them that no one paid close-enough attention to – they didn’t want to see how ugly they really were.”
To back Steve McQueen’s postage stamp campaign go here.