The cancellation of this art exhibition truly stinks

Not all art is to everyone's tastes. Art often intentionally raises questions about the world and society, challenges ideas and provokes debate. That's part of the point. So it seems wholly wrong that an exhibit should be removed for being "depressing".

There have been plenty of cases of art being censored because of claims that it's offensive, but that's not the case with Andrew Swan's Stinking Rich series. Its only offence has been that a few people thought it was a bit of a downer – on which grounds we would have to remove many masterpieces from the National Gallery and ban the entire Radiohead back catalogue from the radio (see our pick of the best art supplies if you're building your own toolkit).

Swan's Stinking Rich: The Cost of Wealth series explores the impact of extreme wealth on the environment, depicting the fictional tombstones of four billionaires and their activities in life. Four of the pieces were on display at Trebah Gardens, Cornwall, as part of a group exhibition called In it Together.

The plinths depicted four of the richest people in Britain: Sir Jim Ratcliffe of INEOS, vacuum cleaner-maker Sir James Dyson, betting magnate Denise Coates and TETRAPAK heiress Kirsten Rausing. They were displayed alongside panels of information about each person's activities. But it seems the topic of Swan's work may have hit a little too close to home for some of the gardens' wealthy membership.

CornwallLive reported that the venue had asked the exhibition organiser to remove the pieces after receiving five complaints from long-term members. One complaint read: "A number of people in my party commented that they do not want to come to a nice garden like Trebah to be preached at and go away feeling depressed."

Swan, who is based in Penzance and has exhibited these pieces in several other spaces, told the site: "Trebah Gardens, the reason they exist is because of the beautiful woodland and foliage that's there, that's why people are visiting, but the whole exhibition is about the damage that befalls the environment."

He later told the BBC: "I'm just a little bewildered that a few visitors found the topic of extreme wealth and the impact it is having on our environment and society so uncomfortable, especially during the current cost of living crisis. I think it probably says more about these people than any of my artwork."

Trebah Gardens said in a statement: "The request to remove this piece is in no way a judgement on the quality of Andrew Swan's work, or any other artworks on display within the 'In This Together' exhibition, which we are delighted to host. In This Together has been curated by two of the artists involved, with the objective of the exhibition to create constructive conversation around climate change and to provide an additional experience for garden visitors within a large indoor space previously used for retail."

The exhibition organiser Ilya Fisher said: "We understand that Trebah have had several negative complaints about Andrew's work, and our exhibition comments book has been overwhelmed with visitor views about Andrew's work. When we were asked to remove his work we thought long and hard about this.

"We do not find the work offensive but understand that it can prompt conversations about wealth, privilege, responsibility and consequence to the environment and community. We value the opportunity to exhibit to Trebah Garden's audience and hope that for our remaining time there all of the other valuable work at the exhibition will have a chance to be thought about and discussed by visitors to the garden."

If you're looking for art supplies for your own work, see ours guides to the best oil paints for artists, the best paintbrushes for oils and the best easels.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.