Boris Johnson, the newly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, may not be the choice of most artists and art-industry denizens for the new leader, but Johnson has plentiful personal connections to the art world that have spilled over into his professional life. A former journalist himself with a tabloid bent, Boris has quite often become tabloid fodder himself for his extramarital dalliances, which have become very much a part of his public image.
A connection to art is firmly in the family for Johnson. His mother, the painter Charlotte Johnson Wahl, most recently had a retrospective called “Minding Too Much” in 2015 at London’s Mall Galleries, part of the Federation of British Artists. His brother Jo is a member of Parliament for Orpington and is married to Amelia Gentleman, daughter of the British illustrator David Gentleman. Boris’s first wife Allegra, whom he met while studying at Oxford, is the daughter of an art historian and specialist at Christie’s and is now an art teacher and activist in the Muslim community of East London.
Currently, Boris’s companion at 10 Downing Street is set to be his 31-year-old partner Carrie Symonds who graduated university with an art history degree in 2009.
Arts and culture has been a thread throughout Johnson’s public life. Boris himself served as shadow culture minister in 2004. In his semi-comical six-point plan to “save Britain’s arts” he weighed in on the long-simmering Elgin Marbles controversy, suggesting that “the Greeks are going to be given an indistinguishable replica of all the Parthenon marbles, done in the most beautiful marble dust to end this acrimonious dispute between our great nations.” The immortal fourth point was:
Fourth? I can’t remember what point four is. Ah, yes. We are going to convene a summit with Damien Hirst and the rest of the gang at which they are going to explain to the nation what it all means. Let us have a national ‘mission to explain’ by the Saatchi mob, which will be massively popular.
At some point during his second marriage to lawyer Marina Wheeler, Johnson became involved with the journalist Anna Fazackerley. When he was elected Mayor of London in 2008, he appointed her head of arts and culture at Policy Exchange where she served from 2008–2010.
Infamously, Johnson would go on to have an affair with Helen MacIntyre, an art history graduate from Edinburgh University who rose through the ranks of Christie’s before striking out on her own as an art consultant, with an eye on the Middle Eastern market, flying “to Qatar 16 times in 18 months, tapping into the Middle Eastern art market by brokering million-pound deals for the ruling dynasty” according to the Daily Mail. Her clients, the same article asserts, included “members of the Qatari royal family and Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani.”
In 2009, when he was the Mayor of London, Johnson invited MacIntyre to be an unpaid consultant for the fundraising efforts to build Anish Kapoor‘s Olympic Park sculpture, ArcelorMittal Orbit, which McIntyre also had her then-partner Pierre Rolin contribute to, writing a check for £80,000.
Rolin later regretted the association with Johnson, taking to the Evening Standard in an article called “How I Was Cuckolded by Boris Johnson.”
MacIntyre’s daughter Stephanie is widely reported to be Johnson’s “lovechild” (MacIntyre lost a suit attempting to keep the paternity secret in 2013, with the court ruling that Johnson’s morality made it a clear matter of public interest). “They [MacIntyre and Rolin] split up after Stephanie’s birth in November last year, when the newborn’s wild blonde hair and blue eyes raised doubts that she could be the dark-haired Rolin’s child, and a DNA test confirmed she wasn’t,” a 2010 Daily Mail article claimed.
After the Olympics, the $24 million public sculpture dubbed “Boris’s folly,” was losing thousands of dollars per week in visitors fees, so the Mayor insisted on adding an attraction to boost the numbers. Speaking to the Telegraph, Kapoor said that the “Mayor foisted this [slide] on the project” and that instead of “going to battle with the Mayor,” he enlisted the help of fellow artist Carsten Holler to design a “more elegant, more astute” option. The whole endeavor became a huge point of contention between Johnson and Anish Kapoor—who yesterday sent artnet News an unflattering and graphic cartoon of Johnson following the Tory election results.
In 2016, when Holler’s slide was successfully installed to snake between Kapoor’s labyrinthine scaffold-like public sculpture, the artist, a Remainer, told reporters wryly, “We’re hoping Boris will be the first one down, and that this is Europe when he gets to the bottom.”
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