My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic – Quick Review

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Charles Saatchi  England  Iraq flag

Phaidon (2009), 176 pages

Borrowed

Art & Photography

My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic: Everything You Need to Know About Art, Ads, Life, God, and Other Mysteries – And Weren’t Afraid to Ask… is a simple series of questions and answers.  The questions were posed by the public and Saatchi’s answers are always pithy and occasionally illuminating.

Saatchi is the UK’s premier art collector and the man who threw the petrol that that led to the explosion of Young British Artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.  Saatchi (who made his money in the advertising business) is clear that there is no easy way to make money in art.  It takes a certain amount of skill but also luck.  Two artists can paint equally good paintings, one might sell for $500,000 and the other for $5,000.  Art isn’t logical.

Of course it is hard not to read this book without your memory being tainted by the photographs of what looked like Saatchi throttling his wife Nigella Lawson.  There are a number of questions about Nigella in the book an Saatchi’s responses are, not surprisingly somewhat strange: Question – “What is is like being married to a domestic goddess?” Answer –  “She is too good for me, I know, but she knows it too and reminds me every day.” (p. 142)  It emerged during the trial of Nigella Lawson’s personal assistants that they had been sent around London by Saatchi to buy copies of his own books in order to move them up the bestseller lists!  Despite his apparent confidence and multimillionaire status there is obviously a deep insecurity at the heart of Saatchi.  Nonetheless this is an interesting, if somewhat flimsy, look at the art world through the eyes of one man.

7/10

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst.  Credit: lucidpractice.com

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst. Credit: lucidpractice.com

Tony Gregory by Robbie Gilligan – Quick Review

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Robbie Gilligan  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

The O’Brien Press (2011), 264 pages

Chapters Bookstore,  €7

Irish History & Politics  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

Tony Gregory was one of Ireland’s greatest politicians.  He was committed to his constituents, particularly those in his north inner-city heartland, he was a hard worker, he was honest, and he was brave.  Gregory was an Irish republican and a socialist.  He saw that the way to change social conditions in a democratic society was to get people to vote for politicians who would champion his or her constituents’ causes.  Despite his republican socialism Gregory was no supporter of IRA bombings or the Soviet Union.  On a trip to the USSR as a student he was dismayed by the fact that those with foreign currency could buy goods unavailable to the average Soviet citizen.

Gregory succeeded in getting elected as both a Dublin city councillor and a TD as an independent.  Luckily, on his election to the Dáil in 1982, Gregory effectively held the balance of power.  Gregory negotiated a deal with the Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey to ensure his support for a Fianna Fáil government.  “The Gregory Deal” was an astonishing boost to his neglected community.  The comprehensive 30 page document (which is reproduced fully in this book) included sections on employment, housing, education, and health.  “The Gregory Deal” has been blamed as the start of a tradition of independent TDs holding governments to ransom in order to boost spending in their constituencies.  Gilligan robustly challenges this view by pointing out that inner-city Dublin had been woefully neglected for decades and that any gains achieved were used to try and bring the area up to the standard of other parts of the country.

Gregory played a vital role in tackling the scourge of drugs (especially heroin) in his community.  He bravely named and challenged drug dealers operating among his constituents and was instrumental in pushing for the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).  CAB was ultimately established in 1996 in order to seize the proceeds of crime from criminals.  Gregory also campaigned for the rights of street traders and was a strong proponent of animal rights legislation (shamefully Ireland still allows stag hunting with packs of dogs and hare coursing by muzzled dogs).

Tragically Gregory died of cancer in 2009.  I live in his Dublin Central constituency but while his death was a great loss to the area his principles and work ethos have been carried on by his former campaign manager (and also an independent TD) Maureen O’Sullivan.  Robbie Gilligan’s biography, although containing some critical analysis, is clearly sympathetic to Gregory’s political position.  This sympathy, however, doesn’t detract from the quality of Gilligan’s storytelling.  Tony Gregory was a unique politician, a true independent, and Robbie Gilligan’s book does the man justice.

8/10

Related Links

Archive of Tony Gregory material on Maureen O’Sullivan’s website

The Gregory Deal – The full text of the deal

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party) obituary

Irish Left Review obituary

Irish Independent review

The Lemass Era edited by Brian Girvin & Gary Murphy – Review

25363 The Lemass EraEdited by Brian Girvin & Gary Murphy  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

UCD Press (2005), 288 pages

Cabra Library, Dublin

Irish History & Politics  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

Seán Lemass was arguably Ireland’s greatest Taoiseach.  He was the right man at the right time.  Éamon de Valera‘s leadership had become ossified, wedded to economic protectionism, and wary of new ideas.  Irish government policies since independence had been a failure on the most basic level: Ireland had massive rates of emigration and a seemingly unstoppable decline in population.  Lemass, although a nationalist veteran of the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, didn’t see the point about getting hung up on the finer points of partition, what mattered was ensuring that Irish people could build their lives in Ireland without the risk of destitution.

Lemass became Taoiseach in 1959 and decided to follow the advice in T.K. Whitaker’s Economic Development paper.  This meant a gradual end to protectionism (achieved through tariffs on imported goods) and ultimately the desire to enter the European Economic Community (EEC).  By the time time Lemass became Taoiseach it was clear that protectionist economic policies had failed.  The average British worker earned 40% more than the average Irish worker in 1960.  In Ireland, even at this low wage rate, there simply weren’t enough jobs available for workers.  It was hoped that ending protectionist policies would expand the economy so that there would be an increase in jobs and wages.

The move to end protective tariffs had the potential to stir up opposition from farmers and workers.  The government’s discussions with the National Farmers’ Association (NFA) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) were fruitful.  The NFA realised that, if Ireland gained membership of the EEC, they would gain by being part of the EEC’s Common Agricultural Policy.  ICTU were willing to forgo a certain level of job security for its members based on the potential increase in employment that could be achieved if the Irish economy expanded.  Nonetheless it took skill and determination to gain the support of the various interested parties.

Lemass Stamp ebay

Credit: ebay.com

Apart from Lemass’ economic policies his most significant achievement was his gradual engagement with the Northern Ireland government.  Lemass’ meeting with his Northern Irish counterpart, Terence O’Neill, in 1965 was the first meeting of Irish and Northern Irish leaders since 1925.  Lemass, unlike de Valera, took mutually beneficial practical steps to lessen the impact of partition on the island.  These steps included unilaterally reducing tariffs on certain goods that were produced in Northern Ireland.  Of course this was before the start of the ultra violent years of The Troubles.  It could be argued that the thaw in relations between North and South led to an increased sense of insecurity among unionists and increased political and social aspirations among nationalists, and that these feelings were a factor in the increased violence.  However this view would be far too simplistic.  The Troubles were caused by a growing sense of injustice amongst nationalists, the inspiration nationalists took from the civil rights movement in the United States, the radicalisation of the loyalist working class, and the failure of the Unionist Party to offer any imaginative solutions to defusing the powder keg they had helped construct over the previous 40 years.

The Lemass era was not without its downsides.  Catholic morality still played an important part in Irish society.  There was an active Censorship Board that banned over 1,000 books in 1954.  There was an undercurrent of casual anti-Protestantism and occasional anti-Semitism (by casual I mean that there was virtually no physical violence but it was generally accepted that Catholicism was the superior moral and social code).  It is of course far too easy to blame the Catholic Church for all of its flaws as Irish society, by and  large, agreed with or at least didn’t oppose the Church’s grip on social  mores.  The Church also provided educational and health care through its schools and hospitals (as well as providing many services to the Irish in Britain).  The Catholic Church was an important voice in public debates on certain issues but Ireland was not Fascist Spain.  Ireland was a healthy democracy and the government did, at times, ignore church advice on certain issues.

The policies pursued by Lemass were vital in bringing Ireland up to the economic and social level of its European partners.  As well as economic reform and rapprochement with Northern Ireland Lemass’ educational policies, such as the introduction of free secondary education, built a foundation for future sustainable economic growth.  The establishment of RTÉ television during his leadership was also an important milestone in Irish history.  Lemass, despite his impeccable republican credentials, favoured action over theory, “Lemass, in sharp contrast to de Valera, ‘set out to achieve his ideal instead of simply proclaiming it’. (p.61)  Ireland is currently emerging from a recession but, even in recession, the average Irish person is far better off than they were 50 years ago.  It is interesting to speculate that if Ireland was led by a person of Lemass’ calibre during the last Fianna Fáil government whether we would have avoided the ruinous economic polices pursued by Ahern and McCreevy.

8/10

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