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Darling, I’m just back from Emin’s little vernissage at the White Cube in São Paulo

Will Self's "Madness of Crowds" column.

Oh, I do so hope, dear readers, that you don’t feel I’ve been neglecting you? I do try so very hard to give the impression that I’m a grounded sort of a fellow, with a proper appreciation of the follies of our age – but it’s difficult you see, when I’m in such a whirl. I’m just back today from São Paulo, where the deliciously modest and unassuming Tracey Emin had a little vernissage at White Cube. I’d gone there from Hong Kong where I attended the opening last Thursday evening of Takashi Murakami’s new show at the Gagosian Gallery – lovely bright paintings of flowers and skulls that would make good wallpaper.

Before that, I was at another Gagosian on Madison Avenue in Manhattan for the launch of 30 new works by Bob Dylan, no less. It was a bit awkward, because I’d just been in Honkers for the Elad Lassry opening at White Cube, but obviously I couldn’t just sit there and wait. Oh, and before that I was in Rome, again at a Gagosian opening – this one for Rachel Feinstein’s neorealist architectural photographs. Such beauty! Such fun!

Good buy in Berlin

I’d popped there from Berlin, where’d I’d touched down for the Jannis Kounellis launch at BlainSouthern (awfully droll), and prior to that I’d also been in New York – yet again at the Gagosian – this time for an Ed Ruscha show wittily entitled “Stock Market Technique Number One”. I’d been hanging out in New York for a while, having pitched up at Antony Gormley’s opening at the Sean Kelly Gallery – well, one has to fly the flag, no? The day before that was one of Richard Prince’s “Four Saturdays”, also at Gagosian. While we’re on Gagosian, I must tell you how adorable their bijoux art showroom on the rue de Ponthieu is. I’d flown into Paris for Rudolf Stingel’s reception and stuck around for Anselm Keifer’s out on the Avenue de l’Europe. And don’t you just adore William Eggleston’s Ektachrome photographs of otiose Americana? I know I do – which is why I was in Los Angeles for the opening reception . . .

Not that I want to give you the impression that all I’ve been doing these past couple of months is gadding about the world attending exhibition openings. Oh no, I’ve also been doing some pretty serious attending here in England: trolling up and down Cork Street, making forays to Oxford and even benighted Liverpool in order to enjoy a glass of shampoo, a daub and some chitchat . . . At least this is what someone might conclude were I to expire at this moment, and they were to go through the six-inch-high stack of pasteboard on my desk.

The truth is I can’t remember the last time I went to an art opening – but that doesn’t stop these Frisbee-sized come-ons zinging through my letterbox. And not just invitations but also large and glossy catalogues, the unit price for which is probably well into double figures. Who, I often ponder as I scoop another highend print-job off the mat, seriously imagines that I will attend a Tracey Emin opening in São Paulo, let alone buy one of her hyperbolically overpriced bits of self-indulgent appliqué?

The answer, of course, is nobody at all: I’ve simply chipped up a bit over the years, written a few pieces about art for the newspapers, and so this great slew of stuff continues to slide into my numb fingers.

From time to time I think of calling up all these galleries and getting my name removed from their mailing list but, surprise, surprise, I never quite get it together. If only it were as simple as putting a sign saying “No junk art mail” on my front door.

Visual sharks

Because that’s all this stuff is: junk mail sent out as a marketing exercise by purveyors of investment opportunities to the tasteless rich. The reason it’s scattered so widely is that it helps to conjure up “an art crowd”, and it’s within this seemingly freewheeling and bohemian milieu that the serious dealers cruise about, their expensively tailored dorsal fins cleaving the choppy waters of sociability as they zero-in for the killer sale.

Your average thick, tasteless Richie feels pretty exposed in the minimalist fish tank of an upscale gallery – but fill it with full-time wankers, poseurs and MAAWs (model, actress, artists – whatever), and they start to relax; after all, they’re not simply in it to stock up their portfolios – oh no. They want to be acknowledged as collectors, people with discrimination surfing on the zeitgeist. And so on they go, torching the planet and punching holes in the ozone layer as they jet off to the next biennale or bean feast: the art crowd, surely one of the maddest, and the most swinishly Gaderene that there is.


Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Will Europe ever go to war again?