That repetition, the past becoming décor, is a part of Billingham’s idea of history: that it becomes, for us, a disconnected thing, a sequence of changing tastes, a theme for a costume party. Billingham’s motifs derive from the satirical prints of the late 18th/early 19th century caricaturists Cruikshank and Gillray, whose works were themselves designed for mass reproduction; by transforming them into painting, Billingham subtracts their political specificity and treats them instead as what the artist calls “a symbol of a certain type of taste”.

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