Girl About Town visits Pop Life at Tate Modern

All the world’s a gallery, and all the men and women merely buyers, says Rebecca Newman. But who’s complaining when the art in question is in Harvey Nicks?

Tate Modern’s excellent winter exhibition ‘Pop Life’ may be controversial; it is also a thought-provoking take on our contemporary art scene.

The exhibition hinges round Andy Warhol’s pronouncement that ‘Good business is the best art’. It considers whether commercial concerns debase the integrity of today’s artists – and even posits Damien Hirst’s auction at Sotheby’s last year, which made £111.5 million on the day of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, as a piece of performance art.

Walking through the Hirst room and past a work by Andrea Fraser in which she has sex with an art collector who paid $20,000 for the privilege, I found the show provoked me to wonder: in today’s big-money world of artists and dealers, auctions and collectors, who is screwing whom?

That question came up again in a different context the other day, while I was hanging out with Most Gorgeous Girlfriend in The Parlour at Sketch (a wonderful spot to spend an afternoon lingering over coffee and cake – and, unlike the Sketch restaurant, it’s surprisingly cheap).

The focus of our conversation was a book called Why Women Have Sex. A survey of 1,006 women found the most common reasons to be physical gratification, mate-guarding, mate-poaching, job promotion, to boost our self esteem, or for money or gifts. True love was by no means top of the list.

‘Well what did they expect?’ laughed MGG. ‘It’s not as though a man’s sexual motivation is true love, every time.’

Naturally, I like to think I’ve no ulterior motive. Still, I liked the bit about gifts. I might slip a copy into Man of the Moment’s Christmas stocking. Anything to encourage him to jazz up his presents and not give me any more kitchenware.

Inspired by the Pop Shop – Keith Haring’s 1980s store, which is re-created as part of Pop Life – I’m doing my festive shopping in Tate Modern. The gallery shop has a decent range of goodies and has the added benefit that I’ll be supporting the arts. Hardly a Getty Foundation, but, given my Christmas list, it’s a start.

I’ll make it to Harvey Nichols for a few items, of course, but I’ve several dates to go there in the coming weeks. You see, I have made two discoveries, which will ease the pain of this pre-Christmas season.

The first is Trevor Sorbie’s hair salon in Covent Garden. This year Trevor’s celebrating 30 years in the business. On the advice of MGG I went to check it out and tried his Style Solution. It’s a kind of deep conditioning treatment that leaves your hair soft and frizz free – and lasts for three months. It is wonderful; what’s more I haven’t bothered with a hairdryer since.

The second is a fabulous antidote to the disgusting complexion I get after too many nights in Bungalow 8. Her name is Debbie Thomas and she can be found on the 4th floor of Harvey Nichols.

Debbie’s USP is the skill with which she’s married the traditional side of facials – the pampering, massage and generally spoiling – with the result-heavy medi-spa side of things, such as lasers and audio-sonic stimulation.

My treatment included the best hot stone massage I have ever had, followed by hydradermabrasion – blitzing my congestion and pushing an anti-ageing serum into my dermis – and red light therapy, which is proven by NASA to promote skin healing and stimulate the production of collagen.

‘People come in here thinking they need Botox. When they see what I can do, they cancel it,’ she tells me. ‘Give me a few sessions, and I can achieve astonishing results.’

This I can testify to. Even after one hour, I danced out with less wrinkles. To savour the moment, I went up and treated myself to a full fat latte on the Fifth Floor terrace.

As I sat, my mind went back to the Murakami room in Pop Life. Japanese artist Takashi Murakami sells his art in department stores in Japan to make his art available to everyone. I would argue that a great deal of what is sold in Harvey Nicks is already art and I think Warhol would agree.

In full, the Warhol quote central to Pop Life reads: ‘Making money is art and working is art, and good business is the best art.’ It is a cheering thought: it makes artists of us all.

Original article published in The London Magazine, in July, 2009

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