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Home is where the art is, Rachel Campbell-Johnston in the Times, 25 August 2005

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The Times

Home is where the art is, Rachel Campbell-Johnston in the Times, 25 August 2005


August 25, 2005, The Times

Home is where the art is: dial up a sculpture or just make it from Lego
Arts Notebook by Rachel Campbell-Johnston

FOR YEARS “home delivery” has meant the arrival of a pizza and not the birth of a new sprog. We live in an indolent consumerist era. And it is not just the odd Jehovah’s Witness that lands on your doorstep these days. Log on to the internet and you can order up pretty much anything from organic vegetables to industrial carpet cleaners, from wardrobe consultants to Ayurvedic herbologists. And now, for the more culturally inclined, a new service has been set up for what is left of the summer. For the rest of this month and on into September you can order in art.

In the past this has been the prerogative of the very rich. The big private collector can ask for the free home trial. He can check whether the Warhol matches the wallpaper, or if the late Picasso pleases the latest wife.

Now the Centre of Attention, a sort of peripatetic gallery that sets out to select innovative and apposite display spaces for contemporary pieces, allows you to see if your humble home is the right place for a hang. Its new exhibition, On Demand, offers the work of six artists to choose from. Check out its website ( and, if you live in Central London, you can have the work that you select home-delivered free of charge.

This week I ordered up my own artogram. It came in the form of a jumbo-size German dressed in T-shirt and shorts who arrived complete with a couple of curators, a white painted plinth and an Ann Summers-style bag of home-visit accessories, including a powder compact and a mask shaped like a horse. Markus Vater, a graduate of the Royal College of Art, was going to create an improvised sculpture that would personify my soul and I was going to capture it on camera — useful, no doubt, for posterity, if only to flash at St Peter when I arrive at the Pearly Gates.

This project has a serious purpose. Sculptures are set up in the backyard with the barbecue, not the courtyard with Bernini. Images are displayed beside gas fires, not above a grand mantelpiece. Artistic elitism is put on trial. Is a work weakened by plebeian surroundings? Or is it given new strength by a prolonged opportunity to appreciate? Pictures are not supposed merely to be peeped at in passing, to be glimpsed through a hotchpotch of shuffling spectators amid an odour, quite often, of gently steaming tweed coats. Art is meant to be lived with. Its meanings sink in over time, form sediments that are mixed up with our memories and moods. But do we like a piece more because we can possess it? Or are we more stimulated by unsatisfied desire?

Vater scrambled about my flat. He balanced his plinth on my bed and then climbed atop it with a book. He broached my wardrobe with a determination of which Trinny and Susannah would most definitely have approved. My soul, it seems, is a dusty jumble of old files and footwear, of cracked leather suitcases and creased clothes. And though, of course, it should sing to think that it has inspired an artwork — a snapshot image of two bony kneecaps and a pair of hands with eyes painted on their palms poking out from a variety of plastic sheeted vestments — I could not help thinking, as I chucked winter boots and old instruction manuals and a rather smelly sleeping bag back into their bottomless pit, that a trip to the National Gallery might have proved rather less of a chore.

Perhaps I should invest in a little camping stool so that I can sit down and feel more at home with the great artworks. Then, next time it comes to a home delivery, I could just order up my own wardrobe consultant instead.