Jack Vettriano is not an artist whose work does anything for me, but I don’t dislike it so much that it strikes me dumb. Yet that appears to be reaction of the British art establishment, of which The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is representative; when asked by the South Bank Show why they have no Vettrianos they refused an interview on the basis that they had no Vettrianos. For any gallery in the world to refuse an interview with the UK’s leading TV arts show is incredible.
As the Telegraph explains, critics universally enjoy rubbishing his work – just poster art, says the Guardian, meretricious rubbish, says the Times. Yet on any commercial measure he remains Britain’s most successful contemporary artist, earning £500,000 a year just from royalties on the posters and postcards so hated by the Guardian. Waldemar Januszczak’s rant in the Times is ultimately illuminating: ‘The state has no duty to buy it, any more than it has a duty to buy Tretchikoff’s Green Lady, or that popular poster of a female tennis player scratching her naked bum, or the three flying ducks’.
But perhaps the state should have a duty to buy all that alongside Vettriano. After all, we should preserve art that mirrors the culture, aspirations and values of its age and the commercial success of any art is proof of its ability to tap into the zeitgeist.
And besides, we don’t have this problem in film or music, where populist rubbish is most often catalogued and critiqued on its own terms. The art world’s refusal to acknowledge Vettriano is like NME pretending that Kylie doesn’t exist.