What is ART HATE and Other Cuntish Questions

In writing about the Situatiuonists (see previous post) I am reminded of one of my favourite ART HATE poster What is ART HATE? and possibly the best exhibition we ever did at L-13: Storm of Defence: or, What is ART HATE and Other Cuntish Questions.

The poster came first and is based on the story of the Situationists coming to London to give a presentation at the ICA in 1960. When the floor was opened to questions the first one demanded to know what, exactly, is Situationism.
Guy Debord retorted in French:
“We are not here to answer cuntish questions” to which the Situationists walked out and went to the bar.

So, what is ART HATE?

I can’t and don’t want to answer that. Well, not exactly.

The first rule of ART HATE is not to talk about ART HATE. Part of its power is in its ability to be misunderstood so any discussion or explanation dampens its ability to shock or confuse.

But here I am failing at rule No.1 yet again. ART HATE is just too good to not talk about! But I will refrain from trying to explain anything.

The genesis of ART HATE came from Billy Childish. In 2008 he formed the British Art Resistance (BAR): a proto-Dada non-group (no one could join it) that involved him designing a series of text based posters, flyers and sign-painted placards; a collection of letters from significant figures in the art world apologising to him for a variety of misdemeanours; and a number of Son of Art actions where he donned a bright yellow suit (referencing the troublesome character Nagel from Knut Hamsun’s novel Mysteries) and handed out the BAR Son of Art information sheets. One of the posters Billy made for this said ART WAR with his hangman gallows symbol between the two words. He then asked me to remake the symbol so it was hanging a swastika, showing me footage he’d found from the Warsaw uprising where someone was daubing the hung swastika as anti-Nazi graffiti on a wall in the ghetto. With this new symbol (that we re-imagined as meaning death to the “dominator culture”) we made a new poster that read ART HATE.

The following week Billy came into L-13 with an idea, promising “you’re going to like this”. He proposed we put ‘National’ at the top of the poster and ‘Week’ at the bottom, and suggested we have a week where we made a stand against the growing popularity of art and encouraged people to hate it instead. Thinking this to be a grand idea I suggested some actual dates for National ART HATE Week and proposed we make more propaganda posters to promote events for such occasion. So, with the bit between our teeth and in no time at all we had a full rostrum of posters for protests and events along with general ART HATE propaganda. The events ranged from a Mass Rally outside the ICA, to morning and evening ‘Art Hates’ at Tate Modern (based on Orwell’s ‘two minute hates’ from 1984), a Children’s ART HATE Workshop (suggested by Neal Brown) and a Women’s Protest Camp on the Thames (North shore).

Most of these were designed by Billy, me and Adam Wood (with me and Adam in charge of production, perfecting the aging and distressing technique we’d been developing for some time), but we also asked Jamie Reid and Jimmy Cauty to contribute. We even made a 7” single of the ART HATE Anthem with Jimmy’s mash up of the Sex Pistols God Save the Queen, Billy’s vocals and with Jamie’s design on the cover, and put everything out into the world on a specially made website.

At no point during this preparation did we think any of these events would actually happen. For us it was all play in an alternative reality. In the past we’d created a candidate for Mayor of London (THE ASSISTANT for Mayor, 2007) and run a fake postal (dis)service (The Cautese Nationál Postal Disservice (CNPD)) using similar tactics, so we were a bit surprised when people started asking how they could join the ART HATE movement and take part in events. To counteract this we stated that ART HATE was a non-organisation like BAR before it, that no one could join, the events were propositions for someone else to organise and that the founders of ART HATE would not lower themselves to be involved in such mundane matters. Following on from this we formed the Central Committee of ART HATE Artists and then agreed on authorial anonymity for all designs and artworks made. We also started to play more with the problematic nature of using the swastika in conjunction with aged 1930’s style posters and the inevitable confusions caused.

So, following National ART HATE Week (2009), World ART HATE Day (2010), the formation of the Anti ART HATE League (2010), an ART HATE exhibition on Cork Street (2011) and the publication of a book Love the ART HATE (L-13 Press, 2011), we disbanded the CCAHA and formed the Militant ART HATE Tendency (MAHT) (2011) to develop a more militant tendency and abandon the lightweight satirical elements that people seemed to like the most. For us ART HATE had to be difficult, worrisome and confusing. Not something that could be easily laughed off at a polite dinner party. The humour was still important but it had to go deep and dark.

Hence, in a process of polemic overstatement, we made stronger references to Nazi Germany in comparison to the contemporary art world, crossing the line of common decency with Auschwitz style gate signs stating “Kunst Macht Frie” and “Trust Your Dissatisfaction”, and then there was the worst poster of all: “Artschwitz” showing the Tate Modern behind such a gate with black smoke billowing out of the chimney.

To make matters worse we placed a series of full page subvertisements in Art Review magazine, the first being Jews Against Art, a curiously worrying poster clashing the Star of David with the hung Swastika. For this campaign I was actually called in to talk to the publisher, editor and owner of the magazine to explain myself, which I seemed to do eloquently enough for them to play along (or maybe they just needed the money we were paying them). One compromise I made was to let them publish an essay adjacent to Jews Against Art that went some way to explain our position – Neal Brown’s Meditations on Art Hate No.1: The Proximity of Buchenwald to Weimar, and Picasso to Burger King. By Militant ART HATE Tendency standards this kind of explanation (of sorts) wasn’t allowed but we felt (assuming no one read anything in art magazines anyway) a partial explanation would not detract too much from our trouble-maker intent.

So…why? What is ART HATE?

By way of explanation we formed the ART HATE Archives (2011) to be curated under the custodianship of ART HATE alter-egos Dr Albirt Umber and Mr Harold Rosenbloom Esq. The intent of this was to further develop the history of ART HATE, uncover and discover new ART HATE documents, propaganda and lies, and collate an extensive archive of this material. Then we turned the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop into an ART HATE museum and opened it to the general public as an exhibition: STORM of DEFENCE (an introduction to ART HATE for the beginner) Or, What is ART HATE and Other Cuntish Questions, 16th October 2011 until further notice.

The “until further notice” lasted about a year, and after that there were a few other activities, but in 2013, after the austere installation History Will Start Again opened, ART HATE went into remission where it remains to this day – as Situationist spokesperson Maurice Wyckaert pronounced at the ICA in 1960:

“… waiting for you at the turning.”

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