As polling stations opened this morning across the UK, artists took to social media to urge people to use their vote wisely. Boris Johnson may be the darling of much of Britain’s highly partisan media (and President Trump’s preference), but in the art world few have spoken out to support his re-election as the UK’s prime minister.
Johnson and his campaign strategists believe that their “Get Brexit Done” message, a sort of British version of Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” will deliver a Conservative Party majority. His opponents hope otherwise, and some have been using their creativity to say so.
The sculptor Antony Gormley did not pull any punches when he wrote to the Guardian this week explaining why he was definitely not voting for Johnson. “I am tired of [his] blustery rhetoric, lazy policymaking and mendacious, cuddly Churchill act,” Gormley wrote, urging people to vote for Labour Party candidate Jeremy Corbyn in order to stymie Johnson. Fellow sculptor Anish Kapoor posted on Instagram a concise, if downbeat, message. Noting the increase in social inequality over the past decade, Kapoor says: “In spite of the fact that I am one of the advantaged few, I will be voting Labour in the forthcoming election. Please join me.”
The art historian and broadcaster Bendor Grosvenor is a former Conservative member who will be voting for the Scottish National Party (SNP). He posted a low-budget “political broadcast” urging people to vote tactically in order to thwart Johnson and a hard Brexit. Grosvenor points out that Scotland voted to Remain in the 2016 European Referendum, and its MPs could hold a balance of power in the next Parliament. Posted on Twitter on Tuesday, the video quickly attracted more than 45,000 views. Speaking to the camera in a field as rain pours down, Grosvenor delivers an upbeat message, predicting “warm and sunny weather, just like this” on polling day.
Collage artist Christopher Spencer, also known as Cold War Steve, has satirized via Twitter and Instagram Johnson’s election campaign, highlighting widely reported dubious practices, disinformation, and gaffes. On Wednesday, the artist showed the politician sitting naked in an old fridge. That morning, Johnson, a serial avoider of journalists’ questions, ducked into the cold store of a milk dairy while a press officer moved the reporter out of the way, swearing as he did it, on live TV.
Spencer will be speaking about his work, which was featured on the cover of Time magazine’s Brexit-themed edition this summer, on election night. The event takes place at the Bristol-based foundation of Martin Parr, the Magnum photographer who is a self-described “Remoaner.” Ahead of election day, Parr’s foundation posted images shot outside the Houses of Parliament. All show anti-Brexit campaigners.
The Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey added an image of the Labour Party’s red-rose symbol to stills from his prize-winning video Fiorucci Made Me Hard Core (1999). His post on Instagram earlier this week included the blunt message: “Vote Labour this Thursday FFS.”
Leckey was born near Liverpool in the North West of England and grew up in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and the Conservative Party seemed invincible, although deeply unpopular in big northern cities. The Labour Party’s other traditional strongholds in the North are being aggressively targeted by Johnson. His Brexit-by-January promise has, according to many opinion polls, found a receptive audience among working-class Leave voters.
The Conservatives have supporters in high places in the British art world, although none have been vocal so far about backing Johnson. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s chair of trustees, Nicholas Coleridge, has donated to the party’s coffers ahead of the election. In his new autobiography, The Glossy Years, Coleridge, formerly president of Condé Nast International, provides a pen portrait of Johnson in action when he was the Mayor of London and Johnson wanted a new museum in East London to be a cross between the British Museum, the V&A in South Kensington, and a Babylonian Palace. His anxious aids treated Johnson “as though he was the slightly wilful eight-year-old of a maharaja, who need humouring,” Coleridge recalls. Nevertheless, Coleridge describes his fellow old Etonian as “PM hotshot (2019)” in a footnote.
On Friday, that date in brackets might need extending, if he returns as is expected to Number 10 Downing Street.
Here are more heartfelt posts from a hard-fought election.
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