Collings, Matthew 1955-
COLLINGS, Matthew 1955-
Born 1955, in England. Education: Attended art school, mid-1970s.
Office—c/o Author Mail, Harry N. Abrams, 100 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011.
Art critic and artist. Former editor of Artscribe magazine; art critic, British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), 1988-97.
Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop: The London Art-world from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst, 2nd edition, 21 Publishing (Cambridge, England), 1997, 3rd edition, 1997.
It Hurts: New York Art from Warhol to Now, photographs by Ian MacMillan, 21 Publishing (Cambridge, England), 1998.
(With Neal Brown and Sarah Kent) Tracey Emin. I Need Art Like I Need God (exhibition catalog), Jay Jopling (London, England), 1998.
This Is Modern Art, edited by Sarah Fass, Weidenfeld & Nicholson (London, England), 1999, Watson-Guptill Publications (New York, NY), 2000.
(Author of introduction) British Abstract Painting 2001 (exhibition catalog), Momentum (London, England), 2001.
Art Crazy Nation: The Post-Blimey! Art World, 21 Publishing (Cambridge, England), 2001.
Sarah Lucas, Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.
Author of scripts for television series This Is Modern Art and Hello Culture.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Another television series about art.
Matthew Collings is a British artist who has gained considerable attention in recent years as a modern art critic, both through his books and his British television shows. Described by New York Times Book Review writer Deborah Solomon as a "smart and clever British blabbermouth," Collings has a chatty, desultory writing style that is often contemptuous of the contemporary art scene, while he is still good-humored enough to find self-important artists entertaining. With the exception of some artists, such as Sarah Lucas, Tracy Emin, and Damien Hurst, Collings feels that many of today's artists are more interested in fame and fortune than producing genuine art. "Of course, I believe in art," he told Richard Marshall in 3AM Magazine, "in the sense of some kind of tradition and history which includes modernism and to some extent contemporary art; but I believe it's a slightly stupid age for art right now. It's probably the worst age there's ever been.… Ever since I started this critical enquiry, whatever it is, the theme has always been the same. Why is art like this? Whose fault is it? Is it the audience's? Is it the art's? Is it inevitable? There are no easy answers to those questions."
Collings's first book, Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop: The London Artworld from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst looks into the young British artists movement using "stream-of-consciousness prose served up in sound bites to provide an insider's no-holds-barred multigenerational portrait of everyone who counts in London's contemporary art world," as Art Journal reviewer Alexandra Anderson-Spivy described it. Collings creates a mix of art criticism and personal accounts of artists he has met, writing it all down "with intelligence and humor," according to Carol J. Binkowski in Library Journal. Lisa Liebmann, writing in Artforum International, similarly called Blimey! "funny, fragmented, and sharp." Not only does the work relate some of what is happening in the modern world of British art, but it also "debunks some ideological trappings," wrote Binkowski, including the notion that young British artists evolved their style as a reaction to Thatcherism. Many reviewers particularly enjoyed the author's writing style, which Grady T. Turner described in NY Arts magazine as "faux-naive." The book, Turner concluded, provides "an irreverent primer for anyone who want[s] to make sense of a diverse group of artists being marketed as a cogent movement."
Turner, however, rewarded Collings with a much less flattering review of his next book, It Hurts: New York Art from Warhol to Now. Switching from the London to the New York City art scene, the book takes on an "irritating … cheeky style" that Turner felt does not cover up that Collings "did not do the research required to fulfill the role of an amusing curmudgeon." As with his first book, much of It Hurts includes Collings's encounters with famous artists. However, Turner contended that the author gets in the way of the interviews and seems "incapable, or unwilling, to let his subjects speak for themselves." Solomon, on the other hand, was more receptive to this second book. Although she noted that Collings overlooks some important artists on the New York scene and that "there are too many cheap shots and adolescent tantrums," she asserted that "one of the strengths of Collings's book is that it captures precisely the looping and sometimes loopy feeling of art-world conversations. His glancing, deliberately slight tone is true to the spirit of artists' shop talk, which typically abounds with the kind of information that textbook authors prefer to keep to themselves." Collings himself admitted to Marshall that It Hurts! "wasn't very good," believing that the problem was that he wrote the book too quickly. "Now when I read that one through," he confessed, "… it's the one that gives me the most pain."
This Is Modern Art, which is based on one of Collings's BBC programs, fared much better critically and helped to establish his reputation as a writer. "With This Is Modern Art I was recognized a bit," he told Marshall, "and that was when it became apparent to me that a lot of people saw me as a populariser of a difficult subject, which I really thought myself as being." Complimented for taking neither himself nor his subject too seriously, Collings offers biographies of important artists and personalized trips through studios, galleries, and museums that put modern art in perspective with artists of the past. Collings, observed Marina Warner in a London Review of Books article, "feels easy with numbness and dumbness and 'shock horror' [of modern art]; he doesn't vituperate against vacuousness and lack of affect; he likes being made to feel 'glidey' and 'nice'; he's funny about the artists' self-mythologising and bad behaviour, and irony for him is natural."
As its title implies, Art Crazy Nation: The Post-Blimey! Art World is a continuation of Collings's first book in which he offers more wry observations and "breezy irreverence," as Binkowski described it in Library Journal, on the current state of modern art and art culture. Binkowski called the book "singularly witty and insightful," and added that anyone who is interested in what is going on in contemporary art "will thoroughly enjoy this unusual book."
Devoted to the history and idea of art, yet doubtful of the relevance of what today's artists are producing, Collings has become a populariser despite himself. "The weird thing about it is," he told Marshall, "that I either have never thought about it at all—making art popular—or else I've positively hated the popularisation of contemporary art. When I'm being extreme, I'm capable of thinking that frankly the whole art scene is made up of a bunch of idiots. And I have no desire to get millions of ordinary people to queue up to look at that stuff. Why should they? It's got nothing much to do with them." He lamented that many artists today get into art "for commercial reasons" and that much of the work either has no heart or just reflects current politically correct ideals. Furthermore, this situation will only get worse, he asserted: "It's going to be streamlined, fake, goo, pseudo-art that'll lie on the land for years and years. That's my vision of it. I think the only hope for anything creative or genuinely expressive, is that there has to be some sort of cultural underground. Because if something is only in the spotlight or striving to be in it, then inevitably it'll be hollow."
Still, writing about art and discussing it in his television programs remains important to him. As he told Sarah Vowell in Salon.com, "I really am interested in art. I do see the contemporary art world as a continuation of art history and I take art history very seriously. It's a source of values to me and a source of meaning. It makes sense out of life. But my drive is to be as intense and realistic and creative and imaginative about that as I can. So that causes me to write like this." Struggling somewhat with whether he wishes to focus on his own art or on his writings, he admitted to Marshall, "It's difficult to do serious painting and write as well. At least, that's my excuse, my reason why I haven't advanced as a painter.… But I want to do more painting. I'm going to find out in the next twenty-five years if it's possible to do both."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Artforum International, November, 1997, Lisa Liebmann, review of Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop: The London Artworld from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst, p. S3; May, 1999, David Rimanelli, review of It Hurts: New York Art from Warhol to Now, p. 35.
Art in America, June, 1998, Peter Plagens, review of Blimey!, p. 37; February, 2000, "Books for the Collector's Library," p. 65.
Art Journal, fall, 1998, Alexandra Anderson-Spivy, review of Blimey!, p. 88.
Library Journal, June 1, 1998, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Blimey!, p. 104; October 1, 2002, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Art Crazy Nation: The Post-Blimey! Art World, p. 86.
London Review of Books, April 13, 2000, Marina Warner, "A New Twist in the Long Tradition of the Grotesque," p. 24.
New Statesman, June 14, 1999, Andrew Gillen, review of This Is Modern Art, p. 40.
New York Times Book Review, September 26, 1999, Deborah Solomon, "It's Not Pretty, and It's Not Art," Section 7, p. 18.
School Arts, December, 2000, Kent Anderson, review of This Is Modern Art, p. 61.
Times Literary Supplement, February 26, 1999, Simon Grant, review of It Hurts: New York Art from Warhol to Now, p. 32; January 11, 2002, William Feaver, "Ambassadors of Awesome," p. 18.
3AM,http://www.3ammagazine.com/ (April 29, 2003), Richard Marshall, "Richard Marshall Interviews Matthew Collings."
NY Arts,http://www.nyartsmagazine.com/ (April 29, 2003), Grady T. Turner, "It Hurts: 'It Sucks.'"
Web Studies,http://www.newmediastudies.com/ (March 21, 2004), "Matthew Collings."*