One of the joys of being a teenager in the 1970s was the plethora of magazines. No, not those sort of magazines, though I did have ‘friends’ who read a few of the ‘top shelf’ variety. One magazine I did read and the only one that to my knowledge continues (well apart from Cricket Monthly, natch) in much the same style as back then is Private Eye.
If you are not British you may not have come across this satirical rag, an all-sorts mix of the sublime and the squirmingly superficial. The covers are often the best bit. The editor, Ian Hislop looks like a rodent and has a rodent’s eye for scavenging interesting snippets of information that will undermine the pretensions of the great and the good. Sometimes this attacks work; sometimes they fall well short.
His latest project however is a cracker. Teaming up with the British Museum’s extensive archive of world treasures (or looted objects d’art, depending on your viewpoint) he’s curated a new exhibition
which styles itself as the show that searches for dissent in the museum’s collection.
It is brilliant.
There are coins that have been deface-stamped by the Suffragettes, Euro notes on which Greeks, protesting at the Commission imposed bailout have inked their frustrations.
T-shirts with a range of buttons and slogans.
There are cartoons from the 17th and 18th centuries for which the artists risked prison.
The objects even go back to the Pharaohs, one small plaster fragment having a very rude drawing on it.
My favourite, and one I couldn’t photograph, was a tea pot from the the 1760 with a little ’45’ under the spout. Such a curios thing but it was, in it’s way, a fantastic example of dissent. John Wilkes was a forthright commentator who often ruffled establishment’s feathers. He attacked George III in issue 45 of his magazine the North Briton which was also an attack on the Prime Minister of the time. He was arrested and charged but was released as the courts held an MP couldn’t be held liable for libel. It was a cause célèbre and resonates down the years of people who stand up to power.
If you get the chance to view this, do go.
And whatever you do, don’t miss the final piece, a piss take of the museum itself from arch iconoclast Banksy. This small fragment, so like the Egyptian one above.
It was installed in the museum, without permission, for several days in 2005 and pokes fun at those who would treat street art with contempt. At it’s heart it seeks to stop creeping pretension.
Now where have I heard that one before?