21 Sep 2015

Brian Sewell (1931-2015): “Odi Profanum Vulgus!”

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BrianSewell
Brian Sewell

Art critic and cultural commentator Brian Sewell deservedly received one of the Telegraph‘s celebrated obituary tributes.

Brian Sewell, the loquacious art critic and broadcaster known for his acerbic wit, has passed away at the age of 84. He had been suffering from cancer.

He was an award-winning contributor to the Evening Standard and presented a series of travelogues for Channel 5, as well as often appearing on panel shows such as Have I Got News for You.

He was known as the UK’s “most controversial art critic”, and would openly criticise those who he deemed worthy of it, once calling Damian Hirst “f—–g dreadful” and stating that Banksy “should have been put down at birth”. …

n 1994, 35 figures from the art world, including Bridget Riley, George Melly and Maureen Paley, signed a letter to the Evening Standard attacking Sewell for “homophobia”, “misogyny”, “demagogy”, “hypocrisy”, “artistic prejudice”, “formulaic insults” and “predictable scurrility”.

This was followed up by a counter-letter in support of Sewell, signed by 20 other art figures. …

He maintained his negative opinions about female artists throughout his life. “The art market is not sexist,” he said in interview with The Independent in 2008. “The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”

He was also a vocal critic of the Turner Prize, calling it an “annual farce” and its nominees “a sad little band of late labourers in the exhausted pastures of international conceptual art”.

But it was not only art that he was scornful of. Despite being bisexual himself (though he preferred the term “queer”), he also spoke out about gay marriage, saying, “The recent institution of civil partnerships seemed to be the final necessary reform… Why, then, do they and lesbians demand the right to marry? Indeed, how many of us have made that demand? One in 20? One in 10?… But every minority has within it a core of single-issue politicians and protesters who are never satisfied and always ask for more, and homosexuals, both male and female, are no exception.”

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There was a time when homosexuals naturally gravitated to the upper class lifestyle, adopted an arch reactionary perspective, and were champions of high culture and civilization. Brian Sewell’s negative commentary on a masked ball in Venice could easily have been delivered by Brideshead Revisited‘s Anthony Blanche.

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