In the midst of the comedy maelstrom, into which Edinburgh in August descends, I was privileged to enjoy an extraordinary artistic experience.
This is quintessential 21st Century art.
In a shed, beside Bob's Blundabus, was an exclusive exhibition of the works of Spike Smith. A contemporary of Damien Hirst, Smith has eschewed mere pickling to create works which have been described as “challenging, stunning and original”. I was, indeed, both challenged and stunned. Which is more than I was by any of the comedy I saw. But this is not comedy. This is art. As such, one has to remember that that which, to the untutored eye, might look like a load of old tat, to the art cognoscenti speaks volumes and costs a fortune. One has only to think of Bridget Reilly's blank canvas, Tracey Emin's bed and tent and… the rest, and Turner Prize-winning bricks to understand that many years of study and experience in are required to truly understand the difference.
I must, here, confess that, while looking at one of the video installations – a man in lycra running around in a wood, examining “the multilayered emotions intrinsic to the male experience” – I sat on another piece of Smith's work. In my defence. I can only say that it was a stool, it did say SIT on it in black felt tip, and I thought it might be interactive. A multi-media cactus/marshmallow creation speaks volumes on Brexit, a print of the woman who put the cat in the bin (entitled The Woman Who Put The Cat In The Bin) is a powerful pleas for restoration of the death penalty and a place setting of fuzzy cutlery is a telling metaphor for New Labour. Your mind spins with the messages these works are sending.
I was – of course – hoping to see his most famous work For The Love of Cash. Recently sold for one billion pounds, the work took his own bathroom bin, complete with used cotton buds, dirty tissue and toilet roll tubes and let it speak to all of us, simply by covering it in seven hundred pounds worth of gold leaf. Sadly, it was not in the shed.
I urge you to see Smith's oeuvre wherever and whenever you can. And, of course, if you are very rich, to buy. This is quintessential 21st Century art.