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You Should Be In Charge: art exhibition by Bob and Roberta Smith

It’s loud, the art from Bob and Roberta Smith, with an almost cheerful buzz about it that makes you feel like taking to the streets and demand change. You Should Be In Charge is on now at the Work Gallery.

Written by Jessica Furseth

What will be the habits of the new counterculture? / In the new counter-culture what will the fashions be like / What will be the stimulants of the new counterculture?

‘What motivates me is politics, pill but our politicians are ghastly, side effects ’ Patrick Brill writes in his new book, The artist, better known under his working name of Bob and Roberta Smith, is all over the walls at the Work Gallery near King’s Cross right now His politics are bright and loud, with slogans and phrases painted on boards in a meticulous yet haphazard manner; the letters are carefully made out but sometimes the words are misspelt. But the spelling’s not really the point now is it.

Work Gallery mural

‘We need a new counterculture’, is the theme for several of the works displayed at Work. ‘What will the music be like?’ asks Smith – whereas a lot of so-called protest art can feel negative, there is a lot of cheer in Smith’s work. The boards, mostly recycled from old wood or cabinet doors, are painted in bright colours, and instead of ranting about everything being sh*t, Bob and Roberta Smith’s art is full of solutions: ‘What do we want? TRAMS. When do we want it? NOW.’

What do we want? TRAMS. When do we want them? NOW.

The upcoming referendum on electoral reform is key to the central piece to You Should Be In Charge. Smith is proposing what he calls Esther’s Law – true proportional representation. This would mean 50% women in government, as well as 25% from ethnic groups, 25% touched by mental illness and 10% disabled. Smith is serious about this proposition in the sense that he plans to present Esther’s Law to parliament, but it seems fair to assume that Esther’s Law is equally a demonstrative act – imagine what government would be like if it really, truly represented us all (and no one could become Prime Minister without having had a real job …).

Artists are more important than docters policemen firemen and the army / Saving the world is easy; develop the energy generation of Denmark and the public transport system of Frieburg. We just need to get on with it.

Work Gallery

You Should Be In Charge is the Work Gallery’s first exhibition, after the 31st March opening. The mural pained by Bob and Roberta Smith will remain over the front door once the exhibition finishes, and Work’s sister company, Black Dog Publishing, has also published a retrospective of Smith’s work. The book, entitled I Should Be In Charge, is full of pictures but Smith’s colourful and outspoken writing also makes for a compelling read. I won’t say too much about it as I haven’t read it all yet, but Smith talks about the debate on how art is meant to affect people – is it supposed to interact with us, or should we come to art in a process of discovery? Often it’s the latter, as we stand in a gallery looking at a blob on a pedestal, wondering what we’re supposed to feel. It’s different with Smith, who seems to want to reach out to his audience. I don’t know what exactly he wants to inspire in us, but for this viewer the arts makes me feel like we can really change things if only we try. Like Smith says: ‘Saving the world is easy; develop the energy generation of Denmark and the public transport system of Frieburg. We just need to get on with it.’
Make art not war

You Should Be In Charge by Bob and Roberta Smith runs until 3 June at Work Gallery near King’s Cross: 10a Acton Street, London WC1x 9NG. Opening hours are Wednesday to Saturday 12 – 5.30 – also see our listing. Bob and Roberta Smith will interview journalist and feminist Bidisha at the Work Gallery on 12 May at 6.30. Entry is free but booking is essential: email


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2 Responses to “You Should Be In Charge: art exhibition by Bob and Roberta Smith”

  1. Mark says:

    This looks to be lovely work. It’s worth bearing in mind that B&R Smith is a Trustee of the Tate, and as such sits at Board meetings with Lord Browne, ex-BP boss. So if you come across him or can get word to him, please encourage him to encourage Tate to go oil-free, predominantly by ditching BP sponsorship…

    (See also

  2. Amelia says:

    Thanks for reminding everyone Mark! keep up the good work…

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