Don't believe the hype

A new barter scheme tries to short-circuit the distortion of aesthetic value

What would you do for the following? A melting tehnicholor landscape. A telephone earpiece with tiny squawking birds waiting to ravage the caller's ear. A romantic message about the memories we carry in our souls spelt out in solar panel powered lightbulbs. Three box-lit lit close-ups of an anus perhaps?
  
This is the concept behind Art Barter, an exhibition that is the lovechild of two young curators Lauren Jones and Alix Junta, and which asks what value we put on art. Fifty emerging and established artists have offered their work up to the public in return for . . . well, anything except money.

"In a world where the actual piece of work and its message or beauty often falls second to the hype or price that is attached, we hope to encourage people to value the work themselves, not for the name or price tag attached" says Jones.

For the next three days these fifty -- among them big guns such as Tracey Emin, Mat Collinshaw, Gary Hume and Gavin Turk -- will grace the walls of The Rag Factory, Hume and Emin's old studio off Brick Lane. Their identities are kept anonymous, in order that personal taste is allowed to dictate the value of the work -- at least that's the idea.

But some are a giveaway. Simon Tyszko, who has built a full size replica of a Dakota wing in his apartment in Fulham offers the whole lot, wing and apartment complete with a 98-year lease.  What he is expecting in exchange? "A hamlet in the South of France".
 
One corner of the exhibition is reserved for punters scribbling on "barter forms" with tiny pencils. They are offering anything from home-cooked curries and trumpet lessons to adult-sized giraffe suits or "the fur of 25 minks". 

Artists are not obliged to accept and it remains to be seen whether these noble intentions can have any effect on an industry where notions of value and worth have become so skewed. At best, the popularity and support that Art Barter has achieved could indicate a re-emerging bohemian sensibility among some of Britain's most eminent artists; at worst, it is at least an entertaining experiment for all involved.

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How Dame Vera Lynn was told to “posh her accent up”

Radio 2’s 100th-birthday tribute reveals how Lynn was forced to change her voice.

“I remember seeing her near an elephant, and this elephant rolled over a bit and she had to get out of the way . . .” Vic Knibb, the vice-chairman of the veterans’ group the Burma Star Association, was one of the thousands of British soldiers serving in the Far East during the Second World War who came across Vera Lynn in the jungle, singing from the back of a Jeep, accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Speaking in Radio 2’s celebration of the singer’s 100th birthday, Vera Lynn: the Sweetheart of the United Kingdom (Sunday 19 March, 8pm), Knibb and others recalled what it meant to them that Lynn travelled so far to perform for the so-called Forgotten Army in Burma. Unlike other entertainers, who stayed in Europe or visited only military hospitals in the UK, she deliberately went where few others did – where she felt she was needed by “the boys”.

The programme, which featured a rare interview with Lynn herself, was dominated by clips of her recordings from the Thirties and Forties. We heard frequent extracts from “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “We’ll Meet Again” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. The contrast between these two voices, separated by more than six decades, was the most arresting thing this otherwise pedestrian documentary had to offer. The now gravelly-voiced centenarian sang, in her youth, with a smooth, effortless-sounding tone and crystal-clear diction. But how did the cockney daughter of a plumber from East Ham end up singing with received pronunciation?

The answer, as ever in Britain, is class. Lynn had no formal musical training, and as she had been performing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven, she was considered closer to a musical-hall crooner than a “proper” singer. But with her small vocal range and flawless self-taught technique, she chose her own songs to suit her voice. The BBC, for which she made her hugely popular radio show Sincerely Yours, requested that she take elocution lessons to “posh her accent up” and even at one point took her show off air for 18 months. “Every­body’s Sweetheart” wasn’t immune from snobbishness, it seems. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution