We think we’re immune to whatever the art world can throw at us. A urinal here, an unmade bed there, a dead shark to the head. But occasionally we forget our indifference, and become very worked up. Hurrah! Proof we aren’t all suffering from a prolonged bout of cultural nonchalance.
Dasha Zhukova – Roman Abramovich’s art-collecting girlfriend, who runs the contemporary gallery Garage in Moscow – has angered people by being photographed on what looks like a black woman leaning back, naked, and with a cushion balanced strategically on her voluptuous bosom. Of course, she isn’t actually sitting on a real black woman with a voluptuous bosom, but rather a polyvinyl sculpture by the Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard.
The publication of this image happened to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, which makes it look suspiciously like a stunt. Zhukova has issued an apology after a flood of complaints and accusations of ‘racism'; but she and Melgaard continue to make headlines around the world. Melgaard hasn’t even done anything that original – his chair is based on one by Allen Jones, owned by Tate Britain. All he’s done is change the race of the woman – but the concept itself is hackneyed. But just like that, he’s become culturally relevant – read ‘worth buying’ – and a cynic might say she’s pulled off a mighty fine move, reminiscent of the tricks Saatchi used to pull in the 1990s with the YBAs, like the infamous Sensation exhibition.
Sit back and watch: as more articles chastise the ‘racist’ work, the value of Melgaard’s stuff skyrockets, and guess who cashes in on it? The people who collect his work, of course. So the Saatchi Gallery, then. And Zhukova too.