State of the Arts – ode to a jackdaw

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

The Jackdaw is a bird in England that kind of looks like our crow, it is also the best art rag in existence

While in Manchester we visited a very hip, ultra cool indy film + art place called the Cornerhouse. The place was great but the exhibition there was an endless deconstruction of an art/house/horror/cult/film hero whose last work was never filmed, and on display were posters and props made but never used. Frankly I couldn’t tell exactly what the point was and whether this whole thing was for real or not. The film shown on one of the floors seemed a tedious but nicely made disjointed film that was out takes? unused clips? Still not sure even after watching it.

On the first floor however was an amazing magazine store. I could have spent a thousand pounds in it. The art magazine in the UK and Europe is not dead, thankfully. And what did I spot on a shelf but a copy of The Jackdaw. The Jackdaw is a black & white rag, made in cheap newsprint and published a few times a year. They also have a website but I can’t figure out if they are on social media or not. Probably not since in some ways they like to hang on to a 19th century vibe (vicars occasionally chime in on religious art). It is a rag in that many of the articles are poison pen pronouncements about what a bunch of bollocks contemporary art is. But, there are also amazingly well written articles on what a bunch of bollocks contemporary art is. It can be laugh out loud funny and like much of English humour, truly nasty.

What I love about The Jackdaw is that it writes about art in intelligent, chippy prose without resorting to that ridiculous art jargon which keeps anyone without an MFA away from actual art. If you are Canadian you might remember Frank magazine. I loved Frank magazine. It was a really virulent rag that took shots at our federal government and Canadian celebrities (all twenty of them). I think it died just shortly after announcing a contest to deflower then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s daughter, he might have threatened a lawsuit. In any case, The Jackdaw is like Frank magazine only it is devoted entirely to the art scene in England. We have no equivalent here and the first time I read The Jackdaw I thought, I want to do this. This blog is a tremendously feeble attempt to honour some of the outrageousness of The Jackdaw.

The Jackdaw has a section devoted to translating art speak. And if they can’t translate it then their preferred option is to make as much fun of it as possible. Conceptual artists don’t ever get a fair shake in this column I’m afraid.

Like any good rag The Jackdaw has some high profile hates. Damien Hirst is a constant figure though I believe he probably secretly donates to them, Antony Gormley is often lampooned cruelly, Nick Serota of the Tate Modern is given full on corporate dbag treatment and the Serpentine Gallery in London, that dazzling new edition to all things wealthy and arty (the list of celebs that attend their openings are way to long to record here) is given full on ballistic assault regardless of what manoeuvres they make. You see, The Jackdaw believes that there is an art conspiracy wherein the Tate, State Art (what they call Arts Council England, their Canada Council if you will), the Arts Fund (a national charity that contributes to art, supposedly all English art) and all the glittering galleries like the Serpentine have colluded into making art stars via the Turner Prize (jurors are regularly dealers and curators working for any of the above) thus stoking the dollar amounts of contemporary art in the London market.

Is this sore loser paranoia? Well I would have said yes had I not actually experienced the impoverished state of art support in the regions. Every art organization in the country has taken a hit since austerity measures were introduced but not in London, most funding stayed the course and in fact, the ED and curator of the Serpentine were just given raises. Many of the galleries I dealt with and the artists I met were all very familiar with this unbalanced state of things, they know well how underfunded they are and like us everywhere, we won’t make a stink because we are too afraid of losing the little we already have. Enter The Jackdaw who does it for them.

O to have something like The Jackdaw here. Wouldn’t you love to read about art as though you weren’t an idiot or not let in on some kind of secret club? Wouldn’t it be great to have funding bodies criticized publicly when they are due without reprecussions? Don’t ya want to see pretentious nonsense stripped of its power? Maybe not, perhaps we are too small over here and perhaps we need another 1000 years of culture before we can confidently take a stand against injustices in our own community. For now however, never mind the bollocks read The Jackdaw.

The Jackdaw also writes reviews and profiles artists who deserve more attention.


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