The Olympics is about sport not art, so culture needs to drop out of the race

When the best the Cultural Olympiad has to offer is bouncy castles and BMWs, you know it's time for art to take a back seat
Jonathan Jones
A question arises looking at the full programme for the London 2012 festival, and that question is: why? What’s all it for? And how does it connect in any interesting way with the Olympics, or use that sporting even to further art?

As far a visual art goes there is nothing odious about the choices made, but nothing very coherent or spectacularly important, either. To be honest, from Jeremy Deller’s bouncy Stonehenge touring the nation to an installation by Richard Wilson in Bexhill on Sea, many of the artworks for the festival sound a bit… cheap and cheerful.

A bouncy castle can’t cost that much and Wilson is an artist of subtle ephemeral installations. It’s hard to see how the festival is raising anyone’s game here. Where’s the ambition? Oh, there is, and its name is Anish Kapoor

Another element of the art programme that adds to the sense of public money being in short supply is that we are supposed to get excited about a display of BMW cars painted by the likes of Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. This is an innovative and creative contribution to culture how?

These painted cars have been around for centuries, and if the London 2012 festival is driven to rely on them as a major part of its programme it is in serious trouble. There is nothing special about a show of these pop art vehicles, nothing cutting edge, and the only explanation I can see is that the organisers are desperately reliant on sponsorship and grateful for BMW’s involvement.

It hardly takes a world festival to elicit a new work from Antony Gormley, to take another art element of the programme. But it’s time the cultural establishment, which seems endlessly deluded – and by which I mean curators, administrators, and us cultural journalists – woke up to the blindingly obvious fact that when the Olympics opens, we won’t be the stars.

I once visited Athens ahead of its Olympics to review its cultural festival. Greece has more reason than most places to make a lot of cultural noise about the Olympics, and did so, with exhibitions on the ancient Greek Olympic games as well as a Gilbert and George show. None of this mattered when the games opened.

The BBC did not weave a visit to the wonderful Cycladic art museum into its games coverage. This is about sport, not culture, and after all the fuss, the London 2012 festival implicitly recognises that by foregrounding entertainment (see Stephen Fry at your local comedy club!) and going easy on the brainwork.

When it comes to visual art, this makes the whole thing pointless. It will add little to the life of the mind, but may give BMW a boost.

By Jonathan Jones for Guardian Culture Professionals Network

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