At the weekend Will Self (whom I often unconsciously contract toWilf) had a rant about the Jubilee exhibition at the NPG:
The curators of this exhibition – and their hired art-critical yea-sayer, Paul Moorhouse – want you to believe that these images from six decades of the Queen's reign perform the astonishing feat of reconciling the hieratic with the hip; that the Queen and her image-makers have been engaged in a subtle equivocation between the regal demands of distance and the democratic ones of intimacy, and that these superb pictures enshrine that success. The truth is that the pictures are almost insufferably dull. If you're a monarchist you'd be better off staying at home, painting a Union flag on your living room wall and watching it dry than venturing out to see this tat. And the principal reason why the images are so banal and uninteresting is because, gasp, nobody – least of all the artists and photographers who confected them – knows the sitter at all well. At least, on one analysis that would seem to be the case: the Queen is an enigma wrapped tightly inside an ermine-trimmed robe.
Oddly for a cultural commentator, Self failed to comprehend that this is exactly the perspective adopted by Moorhouse (the curator not some secondary hired hand). It's a display of public images - including the informal and unauthorised - not any sort of penetrating or supposedly intimate portraiture, of a figure - not quite a person - whose face has been around and everywhere ever since we were all conscious. Think Queen Victoria, from girlhood to old age. So it makes one address the images and their constructions.
Probably the least familiar and most attractive is an actual construction by Hew Locke, made from trinkets and tinsel and referencing both the gaudy jewels of royal portraits and those decorating santeria shrines. In the photo it looks rather horrible but close to it is delicious.
Locke says "My feelings about the Royal Family are ambivalent. I am simply fascinated by the institution and its relationship to the press and public. My political position is neither republican nor monarchist." And of his work in general, "It is essentially about Power – who had it, who has it and who desires it".