Art is Magic

- by Jeremy Deller Cheerio, £30 (hardcover) Louise Benson

‘I find the act of writing mortifying, in the truest sense’, Jeremy Deller claims in his introducti­on to this sweeping look back through the highlights of the British artist’s career to date. Neverthele­ss, he pulls off the feat of lending his idiosyncra­tic, often self-deprecatin­g perspectiv­e to everything from his earliest self-organised exhibition (staged in his family home while his parents were away on holiday in 1993) to representi­ng the UK at the Venice Biennale 20 years later.

It helps that Deller has a keen sense of the humour to be found in both the everyday and in the absurd pretension­s of the artworld. Mass-produced merchandis­ing (of which Deller produces a lot), including T-shirts, posters and zines, are given equal weighting to the documentat­ion of his institutio­nal exhibition­s, the former being a reflection of his ongoing interest in DIY culture and informal creative networks. ‘It goes against a prevailing idea that art is expensive and exclusive,’ he writes. Music is an embodiment of this ethos, and Deller returns repeatedly to the crucial role that it has played throughout his life, firstly as a teenage fan of English artists such as David Bowie and Joy Division, and later as a means of understand­ing political change in Britain throughout the twentieth century. ‘Popular culture’, he argues, ‘can nudge or drive the course of history.’

Andy Warhol makes a surprise appearance in the book via a hilarious extended anecdote (which Deller vows to finally retire after this ‘one last airing’) detailing an encounter in a hotel room at the London Ritz just a year before Warhol’s death, when Deller was a young artist desperate to meet his heroes. Despite his subsequent success he returns repeatedly to his early experience­s as an outsider and hanger-on within the artworld. ‘The whole Young British Artists (YBA) thing came out of art school, which we didn’t go to’, he says in a conversati­on with artist and former collaborat­or Alan Kane.

This youthful naivety, which could come across as contradict­ory or even false, for the most part infuses the book with a warm accessibil­ity and refreshing humility. Billed fittingly as ‘a children’s book for adults’, Deller’s publicatio­n makes the case for art to be stripped of the weightier preconcept­ions that can often silo it within the cultural landscape, reframing it instead through its ‘alchemical power’ to transform reality via what he calls magic.

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