take less

December 7, 2011

It’s a shame, isn’t it, that we may lose Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle to a Korean millionaire. It’s been on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square since May 2010. But in January 2012, like a New Year’s Sail, everything must go.

Where though?

An article in the guardian by Maev Kennedy sets out the dilemma. The unnamed Korean millionaire wants it as a garden ornament (so we’re told – damn those unnamed uncultured foreign millionaires and their fancy private garden desires!) But, there is the chance of saving it and moving it down the Thames to a new home at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Perfect, no?

All we have to do is buy it.

A charity has been set up to do just that. The mystery Korean was willing to pay twice the full price (£650,000), but it’s on offer to us, the public, at a cut price. We can buy it for £362,500. And here’s how; you send a text message and donate a fiver. All we need is 70,000 people to do it and the biggest ever ship in a bottle in the world is ours!

But I’m troubled by something I can’t find an answer too. Who are we buying it from? According to the Greater London Authority website “Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle has been commissioned by the Mayor of London and supported by Arts Council England and The Henry Moore Foundation with sponsorship from Guaranty Trust Bank.”  So some money been’s moved around somewhere in the past, and it seems only right that Yinka (and his troupe of workers) was paid at the time for his work. Wasn’t he? So who owns it now?

the guardian article implies it is the artist we are buying the work off. Shonibare is quoted as saying: “This is a bargain price, a huge discount. I did have interest from a very wealthy South Korean, who would have put it in his garden – but I thought I would wait for a better offer.”

The article goes on to state that the better offer is “the chance of keeping it in the public domain, after the Maritime Museum expressed an interest in acquiring it permanently”.

This is clearly magnanimous of Yinka. He could make twice this amount, but he is prepared to sell it at half price just to keep it in this country. That’s good.

But how about this for an alternative? Take less.

Oh, I know, I’m not understanding something.

This work says many things to many people. I’m not going to get into that, I’m no art critic. But I will pinch this bit from the artfund’s site, which enables us to understand part of the artwork’s appeal:

Its richly patterned textiles – used for the sails – are of course a departure from the original. These were inspired by Indonesian batik, mass-produced by Dutch traders and sold in West Africa. Today these designs are associated with African dress and identity. In such ways, the piece celebrates the cultural richness and ethnic diversity of the United Kingdom, and also initiates conversations about this country’s past as a colonial power.

And that’s one of the things I love about art; it does all that, and yet still qualifies as the world’s biggest ship in a bottle!

Let’s keep it.

But Yinka, take less.

You’re an artist. Not a banker, not a Premiership footballer, not an actor or a chat show host. You’re not a member of the Royal Family.

Take less.

Ok, I’m being unreasonable. I clearly do not know how the art world works. Maybe you weren’t paid first time around. Maybe your team, who built the ship, put it in the bottle… the Italians who made the bottle… the people who came up with the air conditioning to make sure the bottle doesn’t look like my bedroom window on a frosty morning… maybe they are all waiting on payment.

The thing is made, eventually sold, we all get paid? Is that the deal?

If not, take less.

Oh, I know… what am I on about? Why should you? But go on, take less.

Would £50,000 cover things?

If you’re short of money (and God knows, we all are… at my current rate it would take me well over twenty years to earn your asking price – and hopefully, before then, I’d be retired or dead), but, if you are short of money… Well heck! Your an MBE! We (the nation) would take care of you.

Give it to us.

Go on, give it to the Maritime Museum.

It’s going to cost a fair amount in upkeep, so go on, be kind. Give it away.

You’re an artist! It’s your calling to not make money! It’s your calling to survive in a mildewed garret, absinthed out of your mind, serving a greater good. Oh, I’m being romantic now; those were the old days.

But go on, take less.