Four Rooms is a Channel Four programme in which four insufferable but vaguely entertaining "dealers" compete to buy random valuables and collectibles brought before them. It is a lot of fun, mainly because of the interesting items brought in, and because the podgy dealer with no neck is very likeable. In one episode someone brought in their grandmother's antique dildo, he unfortunately didn't get an opportunity to make a bid for it, and in his disappointment he confessed to having "the largest collection of dildos in Belgium". This odd sentence conveyed so much of his sadness we openly wept. The dealer with the pointy nose and the scarf entertains endlessly by being an utter prick completely convinced of his own superiority.
Despite the dealers being an odd bunch they clearly have great taste and have done incredibly well for themselves. There are quite a few things coming through their rooms, or decorating the background, that I would love to own if I was swimming in money with nothing to spend it on. Anyway, today's episode was a weird one. There seemed to be a theme of Gold & Just How Disgusting It Can Be.
Firstly was a hideous Rolex watch. Even more hideous than a normal Rolex. This one was made for the Sultan of Oman, an absolute ruler stockpiling obscene wealth, and was made from enough gold, diamonds, rubies, hens' teeth, unicorn horn, and Vulcan tears to marinade the world in money. It made me sick just looking at it. My sick was more attractive, and much less a symbol of undignified oppressive oil dollars. The guy selling it wanted half a million quid for the piece of shit. Three of the dealers were all like yeah, I'll give you a tenner, and the fourth offered £222,000 going up to £300,000. The seller turned it down.
The next seller came in with a piece so unnecessarily and unexpectedly disgusting it seemed like a twisted parody of the offensive gold watch. I can't believe I am about to type these next sentences. The dealers were offered the chance to bid on a gold and diamond sculpture of a train carriage and the entrance to Auschwitz extermination camp. The source material was obtained from the gold teeth and fillings of the victims of the Nazis at Auschwitz, and from the artist/seller's own grandmother. Recap: a sculpture of Auschwitz built from body parts stolen from those murdered there.
I'm no stranger to controversial art. The makers of 4 Rooms chose to illustrate this with Marcus Harvey's painting Myra, of Myra Hindley created using the hand prints of children. It's source material is the famous photograph so regularly reproduced on the front of tabloid newspapers. These same newspapers caused a huge hysterical fuss about the painting when it hung in the Royal Academy of Art as part of Saatchi's Sensation exhibition. How dare the artist and the Academy make money from the exploitation of dead children. Never mind that the tabloid newspapers made millions with the exact same picture of Myra Hindley. Never mind that.
The difference between a work like Myra and this thing with the massacred peoples' gold teeth is that Myra is not actually made from the victims' body parts of from things the murderers stole from the victims. It's not even real children's hand prints. It was printed using a cast of a kids hand. The Auschwitz thing is made from actual gold stolen from the victims of genocide. It is profiting directly from genocide. Not only was it shit art, it was also ... fuck, I can't even explain it. I consider it almost retroactive complicity in the crimes. The artist kept making crappy excuses about its artistic statement and his need to make a living. Pathetic.
Luckily the dealers agreed with me. The first three told him to fuck right off, and the fourth offered him £26,000 (compared to the £130,000+ he was after) if he would stamp on it. Clearly that was just a pisstaking way of telling him to fuck off.
All that glisters is not gold, wrote Shakespeare, and that gold clearly wasn't gold. It was shit art and mass industrial murder. But the next thing to be sold wasn't gold. It was yellow. But it was gold. An original Beatles Yellow Submarine pinball machine. It was great and it sold for a good £9,000. Nice. Oh, I forgot to mention there would be spoilers. Spoiler alert, retroactive.