Sticking with it … Niru Ratnam and cane at Whitecross Street market in east London. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
Art loves a fashion thing as much as a creative thing Gilbert and George have their tweed suits; theres Grayson Perry and his cheerful dresses so it was easier for me to adopt an Alexander McQueen skull cane as commercial director of ArtReview than if I were a car salesman. Ive had to use crutches following an operation to fix a dodgy knee, so I wanted to know if a cane would feel more debonair. It was also a homage to Prince, who carried a beautiful silver cane in the last few public outings before his death. It had stuck in my mind for some reason. The way, I guess, things are meant to. Though clearly my name is not Prince and Im definitely not funky.
When I first unveiled it in the office, everyone was worried my knee had got worse, but after I humorously shook the skulls head to indicate no, it was fine. When colleagues came to my desk, I would look quizzically at the skull head before replying (Talk to the skull!). I was mercurial, expressive with it definitely more Willy Wonka than Notorious BIG until the moment when I poked an editor in the midriff with the business end. Too far, apparently.
My first outing was to the local cafe that also has a thing theres a bicycle repair counter next to the coffee bar so I felt it would be a safe space. However, the first person I passed on the way there was an elderly but robust man using a walking stick. As I passed, he spat on to the pavement. I tried to brush this off as coincidence, but I was shaken as I ordered my americano. This was not helped by the realisation that a cane is no use when you need both hands to pull out your wallet and pay. Trying to slip quietly back to the office, I realised the cane, unlike a standard-issue walking stick, had no rubber tip. So while the old fellow had glided silently down Old Street waiting for the right moment to gob at my feet, I clattered across the pavement. Although I guess if you do insist on carrying a cane topped with a silver skull, youre not after anonymity.
Back in the comforting embrace of the art world, a post of the cane on Instagram got a lot of likes. I was pleased to see a gallerist from a prominent West End dealer subsequently send a picture to a WhatsApp group of her trying out the cane in the Alexander McQueen shop. Although she wore a furry hat which made her a tad too Napoleon Grande Arme, I felt.
The cane came into its own at the private view of Bedwyr Williams exhibition at the Barbican Curve gallery. Williams is a very tall, Welsh performance and installation artist. One of his early works was Bard Attitude for which he dressed in a flowing white wig, robe and beard, and assumed the persona of a medieval orator. I figured brandishing a skull-topped cane would be an understated look for the show, and I was correct. I swished dramatically through it, banging a drum in an artwork as my finale (at least I assume it was there as an artwork). And everyone seemed to happily accept my behaviour.
Sadly, the art-world echo chamber extends only so far, though. En route to the Barbican, Id stopped off at a pub filled largely with City workers. There were a number of less than enthusiastic looks. One bloke loudly suggested to his friend that I might be Saruman from The Lord Of The Rings. Better than looking like Gareth out of The Office, I thought.
After the exhibition, I headed to Catford with my colleague Oli Basciano. My ability to win a seat on the Thameslink train by waving the cane and limping won over Oli, whod been rather cool about my thing. I think because hes the only staff member at ArtReview who also has a thing: thick jumpers irrespective of the weather. We headed to the Blythe Hill Tavern, where an unfailingly polite barman refused to let me approach the bar and served me at a small table in the snug, urging me to stay seated and winking knowingly at the cane.
Perhaps it is the response that the cane gets from the public that ultimately confirms its suitability for the work I do. After all, isnt generating alternating moments of hostility, curiosity and occasionally kindness and sympathy what contemporary art is supposed to do?
This article appears in the spring/summer 2017 edition of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observers biannual fashion supplement