Art: What's it good for?

Event details

12th October 2009


About the event

This event is held at King's Place as part of the Words on Monday series.

Curated by The London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange (LCACE)

Chair - Michael Portillo
Speakers - Larry Elliott, Ben Lewis, A.C. Grayling, Nasser Azam and Julia Peyton-Jones

A panel of high-profile figures from the arts world, academics, commentators and economists will come together to debate Art: What's it good for? At a time of turmoil in the global economy, with a recession upon us, conflict in many parts of the world and the threat of climate change, the arts may, on the surface, seem something of an indulgence. But can the arts help lead us back to hope, health and prosperity?

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Exhibitor information

Larry Elliott has been at the Guardian for 17 and a bit years, and the newspaper's Economics Editor for the past 11. He co-authored with Dan Atkinson The Age of Insecurity in 1998 and Fantasy Island in 2007. His areas of particular interest are globalisation, trade, Europe, development and the interface between economics and the environment. Outside of the Guardian, he is on the editorial board of Catalyst, a council member of the Overseas Development Institute and a visiting fellow at the University of Hertfordshire.

Ben Lewis is an award-winning documentary film-maker, author and art critic, whose films are invariably commissioned by the BBC, Arte and a long list of broadcasters from Europe, North America and Australia. Among his credits are The King of Communism: the pomp and pageantry Nicolae Ceausescu, which won a Grierson Award in 2002, and Hammer and Tickle: the Communist Joke Book, which was premiered at the New York Tribeca Film Festival 2006 and won best documentary at the Zurich Film Festival in the same year. However, he is best known for his series about contemporary artists Art Safari, which has been shown in the UK, Europe, Australia and America, and which won a bronze at the New York Television Awards and a German Grimme Prize in 2007. Art Safari featured films on Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami, Matthew Barney, Sophie Calle and Wim Delvoye, among others. He also produced a limited edition Art Safari film on DVD, commissioned by the Deutsche Bank for their exhibition Affinities at the Deutsche Guggenheim in 2007. Ben's latest film The Great Contemporary Art Bubble, about the rise and fall of the contemporary art market, was shown on BBC4 in May 2009 and will be broadcast by numerous TV channels across the world later in the year. Ben writes a monthly column on art for Prospect magazine and writes weekly as an art critic for the Evening Standard. His articles have also been widely published in The Times, Sunday Times, Observer, Financial Times and Sunday Telegraph in the UK and Monopol magazine in Germany. Finally, His first book, Hammer and Tickle, a history of humour under Communism, based on his eponymously titled documentary, was published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson in 2008.

Anthony Grayling MA, DPhil (Oxon) FRSL, FRSA is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. He has written and edited many books on philosophy and other subjects; among his most recent are a biography of William Hazlitt and a collection of essays. For several years he wrote the Last Word column for the Guardian newspaper and is a regular reviewer for the Literary Review and the Financial Times. He also often writes for the Observer, Economist, Times Literary Supplement, Independent on Sunday and New Statesman, and is a frequent broadcaster on BBC Radios 4, 3 and the World Service. He is the Editor of Online Review London, Contributing Editor of Prospect magazine. In addition he sits on the editorial boards of several academic journals, and for nearly ten years was the Honorary Secretary of the principal British Philosophical Association, the Aristotelian Society. He is a past chairman of June Fourth, a human rights group concerned with China, and has been involved in UN human rights initiative. Anthony Grayling is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum, and a member of its C-100 group on relations between the West and the Islamic world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and in 2003 was a Booker Prize judge.

Nasser Azam (b. 1963) is a leading London-based contemporary artist. From his early works of the 1980s he has explored representations of the human figure in space, using semi-abstract and calligraphic forms. He has also developed a practice that he terms ‘performance painting', notably involving the creation of two triptychs during a zero-gravity space flight from Star City, Moscow.

In 2007 he became the first Artist in Residence at County Hall Gallery, London, and has to date mounted five critically-acclaimed exhibitions of his work. Alongside groups of paintings such as the Anatomica series, shown in Summer 2008, he has produced a number of bronze sculptures that extend his meditations on the human form into three dimensions. His six metre-high bronze The Dance was unveiled on London's South Bank in February 2008. Other sculptural projects include work for the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, in Dublin.

Azam's work has achieved commercial success, notably with Homage to Francis Bacon I, which in November 2008 sold at Phillips de Pury, New York, achieving the second highest bid at the sale at $332,500. Azam is also emerging as a collector of modern and contemporary art, and is noted for his support of emerging London-based artists. He is a patron of the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and a member of the jury for the Sovereign Art Prize.

Julia Peyton-Jones, OBE, Director, Serpentine Gallery, and Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programmes studied painting at the Royal College of Art, London, and worked as a practising artist in London and a lecturer in fine art at Edinburgh College of Art. She moved to the Hayward Gallery in 1988 as Curator of Exhibitions. In 1991 she became Director of the Serpentine Gallery, where she has been responsible for both commissioning and showcasing the groundbreaking Exhibition, Education and Public Programmes as well as the annual architecture commission, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, which she conceived in 2000. Under the patronage of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Serpentine completed a £4 million renovation in 1998. Since then visitor numbers have increased three-fold to approximately 800,000 in any one year. She serves on numerous committees and panels, including the Westminster Public Art Advisory Panel, and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art in 1997. In 2003 she was made both an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). In 2008 Julia was made Professor, University of the Arts, London, and Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art (RCA) in the same year. She is invited to attend the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, annually.


Michael Portillo attended Harrow County grammar school and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he read history. He worked for the Conservative Party and for government ministers between 1976 and 1983. He entered the House of Commons in 1984. He was a minister for eleven years and had three positions in the Cabinet, including Secretary of State for Defence. He lost his seat at the 1997 election, and began to develop a career in the media. He returned to the Commons between 2000 and 2005, was shadow Chancellor, and contested the leadership of the party in 2001, unsuccessfully. Since leaving politics, he has devoted himself to writing and broadcasting. He writes for the Sunday Times and is a regular on both BBC 1's This Week programme and Radio 4's Moral Maze. He has made documentaries on subjects as diverse as Richard Wagner and the death penalty. In 2008 he is the chairman of judges for the Man Booker prize.