© The Artist


Mark Wallinger (1959 – )


Accession number


Characteristically deadpan, Mark Wallinger presents a series of video monitors on top of wheeled flight cases, each isolating the royal carriage’s leisurely progress down the race¬course on the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (respectively) of Royal Ascot, red-letter days in the calendar of institutional frivoli¬ties. Simultaneous footage exposes precise choreography: the Queen’s frozen smile and rigid curls, the tilt of her head, her gloved wave, the Duke of Edinburgh raising his top hat, the national anthem striking up. Appropriately for an event whose media coverage focuses on the parade of hats and dresses rather than the sport, here we have a close-up on clothes, on the Queen’s dolly mixture of pinks, tangerines, limes; the difference from day to day is barely discernible, just as the four BBC commentaries merge in a confused blather.

This repetition of imagery, all backed by bright green turf, brings into play Andy Warhol’s late screenprints of Elizabeth II from his ‘Reigning Queens’ series (1985),[1] a quartet of the postage stamp icon in camp conjugations of Hollywood make-up and bubblegum colours. In Royal Ascot Wallinger harnesses the aesthetic and pleasures of the racecourse, a strapping mount for entering into the debate about constitutional inertia – a debate that had garnered new piquancy (by 1994 the Queen and Prince Charles were liable for tax, and Buckingham Palace had opened to the public). Ian Hunt locates Royal Ascot within Wallinger’s agenda of ‘innocent protest’ across different media, as ‘a private protest and analysis of a situation which appears baffling or intolerable rather than a piece of speech-making’.[2] If Warhol’s portrait series implies that monarchy is an assignment in the eyes of its subjects, in our effortless recognition of Wallinger’s footage, the charms as well as the absurdity and fatigue of continuity add up to something rather more subtle. Adding an emotional dimension to the conceptual value of the racecourse (bound up in class and pedigree), the quadruped was also a personal passion of Wallinger’s. In 1993, he bought a racehorse with a consortium organised by his dealer, Anthony Reynolds. He named it A Real Work of Art. Although it ran just one race before injury, it won him a Turner Prize nomination and extended the Duchampian idea of the readymade into something with feeling.

On completing his MA, Wallinger stayed on at Goldsmiths to teach (1986–91), and his central position among the rising generation there saw him included in Saatchi’s landmark show ‘Young British Artists II’ (1993). Wallinger dared to tickle the touchy underarms of politics; for this encounter, sport, its traditions and mass appeal, proved to be an accommodating arena. ‘It was a reaction to what was happening in the eighties when artists seemed to think it was more important to appeal to rich people in Cologne than to a more general audience.’[3] Glance at the photograph from the same period, Mark Wallinger, 31 Hayes Court, Camberwell New Road, Camberwell, London, England, Great Britain, Europe, The World, The Solar System, The Galaxy, The Universe (1994).[4] The artist and his brother stand amid a crowd of football fans emerging from Wembley, and hold aloft a Union Jack with ‘Wallinger’ written across the middle. They risk a fight by dipping a divining rod into the currents of hooliganism, fandom and solipsism that flowed through debates about national identity. And adjoining that debate, the quadruple monitors of Royal Ascot undercut the definitive with ellipsis.


[1]. Government Art Collection.
[2]. Ian Hunt, ‘Protesting Innocence’, in Mark Wallinger: Credo, exh. cat. (London: Tate, 2000), 22.
[3]. Wallinger quoted by Rose Aidin, ‘Profile: Mark Wallinger – Race, class and sex’, The Independent (2 June 2001), 5.
[4]. Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009