damaged goods



New Realism: From the Museum of Ruined Intentions - Catalogue Cover


When we spent a prolonged period of time in the Potteries in the Midlands installing an exhibition at the City Museum we were struck by how many of the terraced houses displayed an arrangement of small ceramic objects in their windows.

Every time we went to Gimpel Fils Gallery in Mayfair in London we noticed the window display which invariably consisted of a medium-sized painting, a small sculpture and a ceramic object; mimicking, we assumed, an arrangement in the home of a collector.

So, when we decided to make some souvenirs for the gallery to sell as part of our first exhibition there it was perhaps inevitable that we should produce a series of Domestic Arrangements.

Following the exhibition, the gallery took some of this work to the Basel Art Fair so we decided to go along. We soon found that we had a meeting arranged with Isabelle Graw. 1 We handed her our New Realism catalogue and pointed out that the name of the exhibition was a reference both to the early history of the gallery which had exhibited a number of Nouveau Realists; and a reference to the then current new Labour slogan for its complete capitulation to corporate capitalism.

As she looked through the catalogue we talked about the ‘commodity critique’ of Haim Steinbach, Jeff Koons et al. We suggested that if this work was made in London amongst the decaying ruins of the British Empire, it would come out like our Domestic Arrangements.

She stopped and looked up at us:
” … but you’re already making a critique of something that we haven’t yet had!” she protested.
We laughed: “Always a blow in advance.”
She got up and left … and never spoke to us again.


Domestic Arrangements - New Realism Catalogue


A short time after, we got an invitation to exhibit some of these combines in a newly-opened gallery in New York. As the show was to include the art group Irwin we agreed to do it and Gimpel Fils duly sent off the work.

A few days later we went into the gallery and René Gimpel rushed up to us excitedly and said:
“I’ve just heard from Jeffrey Neale Gallery in New York. He’s panicking as the show opens tomorrow evening and your work is stuck in customs … it appears that a customs officer has opened the crate and has declared that the contents are not art.2

“Really … so, what does this mean?” we asked.
“Well, I’ve advised him either to pay a bribe or to contact the press … because this hasn’t happened since Brancusi in 1926 …”
Sadly, the New York Gallery chose not to promote the situation. Although we never knew the full story, the show opened successfully the following evening where, much to our surprise one of the Domestic Arrangements sold to a collector … which left us wondering what the customs officer would say.


Domestic Arrangement 3 1986
Domestic Arrangement 4 1988


See also: Foto Cliché (cat.) Victoria Miro Gallery, London. 1987 and Orchard Gallery, Derry, N. Ireland 1988 (Declan McGonigle) which included Marina Abramovic & Ulay, Art in Ruins, James Casebere, Clegg & Guttmann, Bill Culbert, Thomas Locher, Ken Lum, Thomas Ruff and Krzysztof Wodiczko.