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Rakewell revisited: Mao, Hamilton Finlay’s ‘heavies’ and Uri Geller’s spoon

3 January 2016

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Below, Rakewell updates some of the most popular stories of 2015, as the art world starts to stir from its festive slumber.

Back in November, Rakewell reported on a letter sent from Mao Tse Tung to the then-head of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Clement Attlee, which had come up for auction at Sotheby’s. The Rake speculated that Little-Red-Book-wielding shadow Chancellor John McDonnell might have been in with a chance of snagging this most iconic piece of socialist memorabilia, and wished him the best of luck. Alas, even the cash from the thousands of new memberships the Labour Party has attracted over the past year could not justify a victory roll with this one: the letter sold for £605,000 – almost six times its estimate.

But McDonnell, having given away his evidently cherished copy of Mao’s tome to his Conservative opposite number, need not weep over letting the Chairman’s missive slip through his fingers. He need only say the word and Rakewell would be more than happy to send on another (now) little-read pamphlet: Lenin’s What is to be Done? If nothing else, it’s a question that cringeing Labour Party supporters throughout the land are familiar with in the aftermath of McDonnell’s Mao inspired ‘joke’.


Back in September, we dug up the strange tale of an unfortunate spat between Brian Sewell and Ian Hamilton Finlay back in 1989. Sewell had written an article for Apollo that angered Finlay, and the latter duly sent down his ‘heavies’ to resolve the problem, resulting in graffiti being daubed at the magazine’s offices. All this, we knew. But one thing remained unclear: in a 2010 interview, Victoria Miro – Finlay’s gallerist – claimed that the artist had sued Sewell and won. The legendarily acerbic critic, however, stated in no uncertain terms that he had never been successfully sued by anyone. So, a mystery.

Shortly after we published the story, an immaculately placed source got in touch with Rakewell to spill the beans. Finlay’s ‘very artistic, very sculptural’ response also came with legal threats. This being as it was, Apollo came to a gentlemen’s agreement with the disgruntled artist, whereby the magazine would publish a piece of equivalent length praising Finlay and his work. The then editorial staff received a piece ‘approximately twice the length of Brian’s’, which, having received legal advice, they cut the number of words almost to the exact number Sewell had submitted, just resisting the urge to chop mid-sentence. The article was then published – but it was a very long time before IHF graced Apollo’s pages again.


Finally, Rakewell has discovered the whereabouts of Uri Geller’s ‘Sonning Spoon’ – a subject of some consternation in the Home Counties back in the autumn. The irate magic man, who recently moved back to his native Israel from Berkshire, has taken the sculpture – either a ‘totally one of a kind piece of art’ (Geller’s verdict) or a ‘Piece of Crap’ (that of an irate local graffiti artist) – back home with him. Rakewell can only wonder whether Israel will be more appreciative of his evident artistic talents.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.