PRINT January 2002

Matthew Higgs on Scott King

SCOTT KING, ARTIST, DESIGNER, AND SELF-CONFESSED Joy Division fan—his forearm bears the tattooed legend LOVE WILL TEAR US APART—operates unashamedly from within the mainstream. An award-winning graphic designer and former art director of i-D magazine, King still holds a day job, as creative director of the upstart lifestyle rag Sleazenation, and that affords him access to a broader audience than most artists could even dream of. Yet in the rarefied microcosm that is the art world, it is King’s nefarious activities as a coconspirator behind the occasional journal Crash!—a self-styled “parasitical tool for critical interventions”—for which he is best known. Since 1997 King and long-term collaborator Matt Worley have waged a two-man attack on the perceived mediocrity at the heart of British cultural life, and in the inaugural issue of Crash! they proclaimed “DEATH TO THE NEW.” Colliding the hectoring UPPER CASE polemics of Wyndham Lewis’s magazine Blast with a pop psychology borrowed from R.D. Laing and mangled by way of Sex Pistols album designer Jamie Reid’s graphic sloganeering, Crash! takes no prisoners. The introductory essay to the publication that accompanied the 1999 exhibition “CRASH!” at London’s ICA began: “Compromise is the devil talking.” It continued, “CRASH! is both a reflection and a condemnation of life at the end of the twentieth century . . . the century . . . that succeeded in turning creativity into product, idealism into irony, dissent into consent, hope into hopelessness, aspiration into careerism, work into alienation, desire into consumption, progress into profit . . .” and so on for another four pages. If all this feels a bit familiar, that’s probably because it is. King and Worley liberally recycle whatever material comes to hand, misappropriating quotes or simply making them up. They are the bastard offspring of Guy Debord: Where King and Crash! have succeeded—and where so many wanna-be media subversives failed—is in their apparent willingness to cooperate with the very culture they condemn. In biting the hand that feeds them, King and Worley have been unusually successful at getting their message—whatever it may be—into the public domain.

As I write, I’m wearing a red T-shirt that at first glance appears to feature the image of every student’s favorite revolutionary, Che Guevara. Closer inspection, however, reveals not the iconic features of the Latin American legend but those of born-again pop diva Cher. Che(r) Guevara, 2000, is a classic King creation, its method exemplary of his working process. In the collision of one cultural given with its opposite, a complex hybrid is created. Skeptical of the status quo that is Tony Blair’s “New Britain,” King, like fellow British artists Mark Leckey, Lucy McKenzie, Oliver Payne & Nick Relph, Inventory, Stewart Home, and Jeremy Deller, is ultimately involved in a collective reexamination of our recent past—in turn creating a kind of “history painting” for the unfolding millennium.

Londoner MATTHEW HIGGS recently relocated to the West Coast after being named associate director of exhibitions at London’s ICA, where he organized, among other shows, “City Racing 1988–1998,” a look back at the eponymous South London artist-run space. His most recent project at ICA was last summer’s “Sound and Vision,” featuring the work of Andy Warhol, Jack Goldstein, Mark Leckey, and Oliver Payne & Nick Relph. An artist in his own right, Higgs has produced artist’s editions for Chris Ofili, Frances Stark, and Elizabeth Peyton under his Imprint 93.