As well as proudly wearing my editor-at-large badge for Viva Lewes, I also work as a visual arts publicist. Recently I have noticed a new breed of artists who have radically changed the nature of my role. Over the past decade my job has involved visiting artists in their studios, seeing their work, listening to their ideas, motivations and concepts and then translating it all into a language that appeals to press, collectors, dealers and curators. The work varied in quality, but the big thing that all the artists had in common was an intellectual basis to their art. Somewhere along the line this has vanished, and a new species of conceptual art maker has emerged. Typically, they do not have an art background but create objects (for example, rows of fish in a light box), which appear like conceptual art. Big name corporations buy the objects and the public galleries and press become interested. The problem is that their ‘conceptual art’ has nothing to it at all. I meet the artists and ask them about their work. “It looks cool” is about all that they can say. As a result, it is now my job as publicist to invent the intellectual background to the art in order to give it credibility. So, with the fish in a light box example, I now have to make up the ‘concepts’ - say a basis in an ancient ritual, female sexuality, consumerism, references to Goya - whatever. Nobody ever seems to question the validity of it. This is what the clients need and it is my job, but it does all seem so Emperor’s New Clothes. JW


How many conceptual artists does it take to change a lightbulb?