A glittering career as a cultural commentator that reads like a ‘how-to’ of writing, Miranda Sawyer began in journalism at the sadly defunct Smash Hits! and later wrote for the likes of iconic The Face magazine and Vogue. These days she’s a regular on the likes of Newsnight Review and the Culture Show, but SevenStreets caught up with Miranda at the recent opening of Tate Liverpool’s Rene Magritte retrospective, to talk art, culture and career.
Seven Streets – First things first; what did you think of the exhibition?
Miranda Sawyer – I liked it, surrealism isn’t a favourite [style] of mine, but it was a good show, introducing you to a lot of work you don’t associate with him necessarily. I liked the commercial art section the best, which he later dismissed as ‘rubbish’, but there’s a directness to his posters in communicating ideas. I also liked that he fostered the idea of suburban living rather than a rock n roll Byronic image that artists seem to feel they must do.
You were there in a professional capacity rather than for pleasure then?
Yeah, I was covering it for the Saturday Review on BBC Radio 4 – if it wasn’t for that, I’d never get out (alluding to bringing her baby along, Miranda points out here how pleased she was that her youngest made the cover of The Daily Post)!
Jumping back a couple of years, you were on the panel that awarded Liverpool its Capital of Culture status; did the city make the most of the opportunity?
Well, there were some hairy moments there in the lead up, but the year worked really well eventually once you had the right people in place [Phil Redmond was belatedly installed as the creative director of Liverpool Culture Company]. I was encouraged by the different institutions in Liverpool rallying and making the correct connections to ensure it was a success.
And what about in terms of legacy, do you think the city has continued to capitalise on that year’s success?
Legacy is often judged in terms of what buildings you end up with (which I don’t agree is the right way to look at it), but what it did was to remind people that Liverpool is a beautiful, cultural city. Also, it proved to people that the city was a viable commercial proposition.
How would you expect the city, and culture in general, to respond to government cuts to the arts?
I’d hesitate to predict development of culture, the medium changes all the time, and cuts hit everyone hard – you just have to hope people aren’t put off by a lack of money going around and that people in power recognise the import of investing in these areas.
You were recently voted onto the Tate members’ council – what does that involve?
As a member of Tate, you pay a direct debit and in return get invited to the odd Private View, get wined and dined(!) and it’s great value for money. Being on the council means that we consider how the money is spent in terms of exhibitions and collections coming into Tate – it’s an opportunity to try and make sure that you don’t forget the audience.
Over the last 18 months or so, The Tate, and Liverpool more generally, have enjoyed some really high profile exhibitions (we’re thinking Picasso and Nam June Paik to name but two). You mentioned earlier that Liverpool is seen as a more viable proposition again, but is it still subject to the same old stereotypes despite this?
Media people from London have been to Goa and never to Liverpool (or the North more generally). I would encourage everyone born in London to get out more, they don’t know what their missing, and it’s their loss!
Your career reads like a wish-list of many a writer; from Time Out, Face Magazine, Vogue and more recently The Guardian and Observer. You couldn’t have planned it better!
Well there was no planning in that! I definitely appreciate my career; I certainly got very excited about applying for Smash Hits! [at this point SS and MS share a lament about the passing of The Face, from which Miranda at least quickly recovers]. Those days are gone; I can’t seem to quite find a publication that suits me, certainly not Grazia anyway!
What’s up next; anything in the pipeline?
I wish there was. I have great ideas, but I turn around and I forget to bank them, like some loser on The Weakest Link!