If the V&A’s latest exhibition demonstrates that big can be beautiful, the new acquisition at the Imperial War Museum shows that small can be profound.
It’s a car, badly damaged and barely recognisable, that was caught in a suicide bomb blast in Baghdad in 2007. The artist Jeremy Deller got hold of it and toured it across America on the back of a truck in the company of a US soldier and an Iraqi citizen for a piece entitled It Is What It Is. Now, shorn of any artistic element, it is on display at the Imperial War Museum. My review in the New Statesman can be read here.
After interviewing Deller, I avoided reading too much about the car before I wrote the piece other than this by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian. Jones, I think, slightly overdoes his praise – is it really true that ‘a dismembered body is what you immediately think of when you come into the museum and see a car’? – while the commentators beneath the line seem obessessed with the pointless and hoary argument about ‘what is art’.
They’ll never be able to answer that question from behind their computer screens because this compelling and thought-provoking piece needs to be seen on location and in context to be fully appreciated. It’s a fine and valuable addition to the IWM’s collection and makes a fascinating footnote in the history of war art.
Oh, and Jeremy Deller is one of the nicest famous people I have ever interviewed, right up there with Graham Taylor, the former England manager, belittled turnip and little appreciated ballet enthusiast.