THE BLOG

The Importance of Bearing Grudges

28/01/2013 16:33 GMT | Updated 26/03/2013 09:12 GMT

I have a Sh*t List. It runs to several pages and includes back stabbers, fence sitters, fair-weather friends and a smattering of generalised ars*holes. Perhaps many people will consider this a cynical undertaking, but to me it's just an aide memoir to ensure that my love is not wasted on those who don't deserve it.

One longstanding shit-listee is broadcaster and critic Waldemar Januszczak. It might be surprising to imagine what this bumbling national treasure, so beloved of arts broadcasting, could have done to upset me? Well twenty nine years ago, Waldemar Januszczak wanted me locked up.

In 1984, after seeing Nicholas Treadwell's stand at the Barbican's International Art Fair, Januszczak wrote an article in the Guardian where he called me, amongst others, "masturbatory artists" who "should be arrested for encouraging violence against women." Wow. I was 21 years old and six months out of art school. Though I don't remember being especially upset by this preposterous declaration (there was semi serious talk of us handing ourselves in to the police) I was bewildered as to how my work could be misinterpreted in this way. I was a gobby feminist even then, and this attack just didn't sit right with me.

On reflection it's entirely probable that Januszczak didn't give my work a second glance, and that my real crime was my then association with a gallery once described as "the worst in London."* The Nicholas Treadwell Gallery was, and is, a privately run enterprise specialising in contemporary figurative painting and sculpture. It receives no public funding and has survived for the best part of 50 years by the seat of it's pants. It shows an unusually high percentage of women artists, and indeed artists of all ages, yet remains almost universally hated by critics. Nicholas Treadwell himself is regarded as some kind of barrow boy vulgarian who's had the audacity to peddle his wares in an elitist market dominated by hedge funds and oligarchs. But perhaps the gallery's biggest misdemeanour is being perceived, rightly or wrongly, as 'accessible.'

While I'm not a fan of everything Treadwell has ever shown, amongst the sometimes cartoony music hall bawdiness exists some extraordinary talent. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but neither has it merited the bully-boy outbursts of Januszczak and a sneering arts press. Unfortunately this vilification of Treadwell resulted in many of his artists finding themselves tainted, and in effect blacklisted, by association and several high profilers left his gallery as a result. I have a problem with this for the following reasons. Nicholas Treadwell bought my first piece of work and gave me my first London show while I was still a student. On leaving college he provided live/work space for myself and a friend for a year at his gallery in Kent and never charged us a penny. Over the years he has quietly done the same for many other artists too, including Noble & Webster who lived rent free at his Bradford Gallery for two years before moving on to international success. How many critics can boast that kind of practical support for artists for who day to day living is often so precarious? This community of artists off who they make their parasitical living?

Eventually, finding himself harassed out of many of the art fairs that were his bread and butter, Treadwell left the country. On the verge of bankruptcy, he set up shop in Austria where he has aged disgracefully, indulging in cross dressing and cabaret. Perhaps one day he'll be reassessed and his contribution to the contemporary art scene will be respectfully recognised, but I think he's long since given up caring. He was recently spotted standing on a plinth in front of the former Adolf Hitler Platz, giving a Nazi salute while dressed as a bubblegum pink Führer. Maybe this is what happens when you've been so wholeheartedly rejected by the establishment and erased from contemporary art history and you no longer give a toss?

Conversely, Waldemar Januszczak has had his mush in the establishment trough for over three decades now, spouting his opinion on artists who have no meaningful right of reply because they're either too skint or too long dead to protest. He's carved himself a nice little career as the darling of mainstream arts programming and despite approaching 60 he manages to swerve all the sexism a woman of his age would encounter. Because the irony is, for all his championing of women's rights, he only gets away with that repugnant cabbagey-panted persona because he's a bloke. Januszczak has done about as much for my career as Senator McCarthy did for Zero Mostel's. Treadwell, on the other hand, put a roof over my head.

*Sarah Kent, art critic, Time Out.