Art Brutes
Anarchists dismantle the museum

While a disgusted Rudy Giuliani rips the heart out of art in New York, London gonzo-activists have set their hearts on taking the piss out of the British art scene on its own doorstep. The Molotov Organisation call themselves "anti-rationalists," which, naturally, gives them a damn good excuse to have a go at anything they like without having to justify it later.

See also...
... by Iain Aitch
... in the Scope section
... from October 13, 1999

Molotov run their operation on a shoestring -- and what money they can beg or borrow from like-minded pranksters such as ®TMark (pronounced art-mark) goes into that most comedic of fruits, the banana. They have coined the term "banana criticism" for their fruity attacks on art works which they consider ridiculous enough to deserve their attention. Those that are, in the words of group spokesman Matthew McCarthy: "ripe for it, ripe like a banana."

So far their actions have taken all the best-known galleries by storm. They've staged guerrilla exhibitions in spaces reserved for the artistic elite, confusing art lovers with bogus gallery tours and even pelting works of art with bananas. The most daring banana criticism to date was the massed onslaught against a painting entitled Larger than Life at the Royal Festival Hall.

Art enthusiasts, tourists and security guards were left aghast as bananas rained down on the huge broken orange canvas, which filled the whole gallery space. Giggling activists swiftly disappeared into the weekend crowds whilst the gallery staff were left seething. According to McCarthy, the main reason they singled Larger than Life out for attack was "because the [gallery] notes were so appallingly pretentious."

The group also took on the prestigious Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), just a banana's throw from Buckingham Palace. The Molotovs streamed into the gallery and within minutes had set up exhibitions of animals made from fruit and vegetables in both the men's and women's bathrooms. "When we did the vegetable figurines at the ICA people said 'that's stupid,' but it was merely there to mirror the galleries own stupid exhibition," says McCarthy.

Molotov's finest hour was an improvised docent tour of the Tate Gallery -- this time they were messing with the visitors to the gallery as well. "Professor Lambert" raised eyebrows by describing one sculpture as "ridiculous," gained nods of agreement as he pointed out how a Hockney painting "subjugates the subjects," and frightened away the parents when he speculated about Matisse's sexual proclivities. As security staff closed in, there was just enough time to assemble a tribute to Joseph Beuys out of a cardboard box and two slabs of lard while Professor Lambert ranted to a suddenly uneasy crowd: "Joseph Beuys is dead, he's fucked, he's dead."

McCarthy explains the theoretical background to Molotov's approach in political terms. "The Molotov Organisation is politically influenced by anarchism, socialism, and Marxism -- that is, Groucho-Marxism," says McCarthy, and their slogan is a direct steal from Horse Feathers: "Whatever it is, we're against it!"

Well, everything except L. Ron Hubbard, that is. McCarthy refused to discuss rumours that Molotov's targets include the Scientology movement, saying "while always being happy to oppose anyone with more money than sense, we're afraid of John Travolta. Nothing to do with the 'Church,' though -- his acting's just terrifying."

Molotov's activist criticism may horrify the cultural elite, but it's riding a populist wave. A few days before their outing, a disgruntled painter dumped a wheelbarrow-load of cow crap on the steps of the gallery as a protest against the awarding of the Turner prize to Chris Ofili -- the artist whose image of the Virgin Mary surrounded by elephant dung has left Mayor Giuliani fuming. However, Molotov themselves are firm fans of Ofili's work and cite him as an inspiration:

"Anyone who manages to base the majority of his paintings around elephant dung is fantastic. One thing that was inspirational to the Molotov Organisation is that he had a stall selling elephant dung at the bottom of Brick Lane market. He just used to stack it up and sell it. People accused him of selling drugs, and he just said 'I'm selling shit.' So he does have a sense of the ridiculous."

Too bad you can't say the same about American officials.

Iain Aitch is managing editor of Fringecore. He lives in London, and no, he doesn't know your cousin who lives in Hampstead.