Arturart at the Fringe

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Filed under: Satire

Arturart at the Institute of Arturart, Edinburgh
Art for Arthur’s sake is more than a joke – it’s a prank sustained by skill and a wonderfully mordant wit
Times Online
August 18, 2008

Arthur SmithArthur Smith’s satirical sally into the world of conceptual art won him a Spirit of the Fringe prize in the if.comedy Awards last year. This year the plexiglass trophy itself is the first exhibit you come across in the hall of the Georgian townhouse that he has filled with his Dadaist digs at sense and sensibilities. “If.comedy Award,” reads the caption. “£10 per 100 grams.”

[Watch the video “Edinburgh festival: Arturart” here]

If Arturart were just here to knock the likes of Tracey Emin, it would be a one-note joke – albeit a cute one. One room features a print of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe screenprint, with some words scrawled over it: “In the future everyone will be dead for 15 minutes.” Below it, there’s a three-foot canvas that says, “Yeah, but let’s see Damien Hirst do ten minutes down the Comedy Store.”

But like all the best parodies, this has an identity of its own. Arturart, one of the slogans posted around the building tells us, “is the rigorous application of the lackadaisical”. And much though Smith likes to depict himself as a bloke just having a laugh, there is a commitment to the art of comic surprise here that is touching in its deftness and detail. From the moustachioed security man patrolling the landings (played by Smith’s old double-act partner Phil Nice) up to the world’s most hazardous paddling pool on the third floor, this is laid out with the care of a real exhibition. But with a lot more gags.

Other comedians have pitched in. Simon Munnery has a whole room of “Munart”; Harry Hill, Stewart Lee and Tim Vine have all donated good work. The archive room, which features Smith’s letters, household objects and drafts of chapters from his forthcoming autobiography, has a couple of exhibits from last year, such as Shappi Khorsandi’s First Portrait of My Son – a pregnancy testing kit.

There are statements pinned up from other great visionaries: Nietzsche, Richard Madeley, a poem by Leonard Nimoy that Smith dubs “the second worst ever written”. But this is Smith’s show, and he has an eye to match his imagination. One room is filled with nothing but Sindy dolls on a wire, arranged to look as if they are floating out of the window and towards heaven. It’s silly. And actually rather beautiful.

Does it have a purpose? Well, there is a bit of comment on the surveillance society. “For your attention,” announced a prerecorded Smith on the Tannoy, “we can see what you’re up to.” But Arturart works because it’s not sneery, it’s a prank sustained by skill and a wonderfully mordant wit: “Even Gloria Gaynor will not survive,” reads one notice.

In making nothing sacred, Smith has made something beautiful. Can they give him another Spirit of the Fringe award? Or would that bugger up the resale value of the first one?

Fringe box office: 0131-226 0000.