The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'damien hirst'
From an article by Nick Cohen about the current Frieze art fair in London, an observation on the function that huge, tacky-looking artworks fulfil in validating their wealthy purchasers' status; Cohen's argument is that monumental kitsch is a peacock-tail-like mechanism for (expensively and unforgeably) demonstrating that one has status putting one beyond the criticism of one's inferiors:
The justifications from the critics whom galleries always seem able to find to dignify the shallow add to the melancholy spectacle. They talk of challenging our notions of what is art as Duchamp did with his urinal. They forget that Duchamp offered his "fountain" to a New York show in 1917 – almost a century ago, and his once radical ideas are now so established they will soon deserve a telegram from the Queen. "Everything changes except the avant garde," said Paul Valéry. Yet Frieze shows one change, although not a change for the better.
Collectors do not buy Koons because he challenges their definitions of art. The ever-popular explanation that the nouveau riche have no taste strikes me as equally false – there's no reason why the nouveau riche should have better or worse taste than anyone else.
What a buyer of a giant kitten or a gargantuan fried egg says to those who view his purchase is this: "I know you think that I am a stupid rich man who has wasted a fortune on trash. But because I am rich you won't say so and your silence is the best sign I have of my status. I can be wasteful and crass and ridiculous and you dare not confront me, whatever I do."
The Grauniad has a piece about capitalist-realist artist Damien Hirst, whose exhibition at the Tate Modern could be the peak of his imperial phase, and the idea of art-as-a-financial-instrument which he (well, he and Koons) has become the embodiment of:
This isn't just art that exists in the market, or is "about" the market. This is art that is the market – a series of gestures that are made wholly or primarily to capture and embody financial value, and only secondarily have any other function or virtue. Hirst has gone way beyond Warhol's explorations of repetition and banality. Sooner or later, his advisers will surely find a way for him to dispense with the actual objects altogether and he will package concepts in tranches, like mortgage securities, some good stuff with some trash, to be traded on the bourse in Miami-Basel.
The byproduct of his activities is the most starkly authoritarian corpus of art of recent times. All those hard, glittering surfaces, those rotting animals. The body, for Hirst, is trash, which exists to be anatomised, displayed, described in cribbed Latin names. The only way to cheat death is to slough off your rotting flesh and take on the qualities of capital. It's the 21st-century version of ars longa, vita brevis. Don't just make money, be money: weightless, ubiquitous, infinitely circulating, immortal.The article describes the mechanics of the art market and how public museums, for all their image of being above the fray of crass commerce, have become tools of art investors' Ponzi-like schemes:
This is how it works. A few major collectors make the market. Where they lead, the horde of hedgies follows. Many of the new breed of art investors ... have jettisoned even the pretence of connoisseurship. Some of these guys care about the bragging rights that come with a blue-chip work hanging in the loft. Others are all about the numbers, and employ the same tools and decision-making processes to play the art market that they use at work. A few have also discovered that many of the regulatory mechanisms that apply in other markets – preventing insider trading, price-fixing by cartels and sundry other abuses – simply don't exist in the art world. It is possible to game the system in many ways, and the careers of certain artists look not unlike a classical Ponzi scheme, where money from new investors is used to pay returns to those further upstream.
The corruption of art museums by investors is perhaps most apparent in the case of New York's New Museum. In 2009 it devoted its entire three-floor space to an exhibition of the collection of Dakis Joannou, a Greek Cypriot industrialist who sits on the museum's board. Other recent New Museum shows, devoted to Urs Fischer and Elizabeth Peyton, also relied heavily on Joannou's collection, and his wider web of patronage. The impression has been given of a museum that is no longer able to make independent determinations of value. This has become an open scandal in New York, satirised in a much-reproduced drawing by William Powhida titled How the New Museum Committed Suicide With Banality, or "how to use a non-profit museum to elevate your social status and raise market values". Likewise, Hirst's major collectors will see an effective windfall from the inclusion of their works in a Tate retrospective, and other Hirst stakeholders will benefit too. That may not be why the show is happening, but it is not without significance.
In his most recent column, Charlie Brooker suggests a few things to give up for the New Year, among them, variants on "Keep Calm And Carry On" and cupcakes:
Of all the irritating "Keep Calm" bastardisations, the most irritating of all is the one that reads "Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake". Cupcakes used to be known as fairy cakes, until something happened a few years ago. I don't know what the thing was, because I wasn't paying attention. All I know is that suddenly middle-class tosspoles everywhere were holding artisan cupcakes aloft and looking at them and pointing and making cooing sounds and going on and bloody on about how much they loved them. I wouldn't mind, but cupcakes are bullshit. And everyone knows it. A cupcake is just a muffin with clown puke topping. And once you've got through the clown puke there's nothing but a fistful of quotidian sponge nestling in a depressing, soggy "cup" that feels like a pair of paper knickers a fat man has been sitting in throughout a long, hot coach journey between two disappointing market towns. Actual slices of cake are infinitely superior, as are moist chocolate brownies, warm chocolate-chip cookies and virtually any other dessert you can think of. Cupcakes are for people who can't handle reality.Meanwhile, Melbourne writer/broadcaster Helen Razer opines on the recent epidemic of whimsy and quirkiness in popular culture (i.e., cupcakes, polka dots, knitting, pugs, ukuleles, Zooey Fucking Deschanel, et al.):
[Miranda July] is to cinema as the contemporary cupcake is to carbohydrate. This is to say, she is fantastically decorative and easy to consume but ultimately delivers naught but empty calories in a gaudy blast of sugar. In her non-narrative narratives about mildly depressed shoe salesmen and people who babysit slightly injured cats, she hints at depths that do not exist. This, of course, is not a transgression we could attribute to the cupcake. But July's perplexing popularity, just like the cupcake's, is founded on the overuse of whimsy.
The popular actress and singer Zooey Deschanel had elective surgery that saw her brain and taste replaced with a clockwork mouse. Michael Cera, insufferable star of the insufferably whimsical Juno, works to a similar mechanic and if I see one more knitted effing toy at a gallery, I may take a needle and hurt the next ''craft practitioner'' foolish enough to offer me a cupcake. As for burlesque. Well. If I had my way, ''whimsical'' disrobing would by now be a summary offence.Razer places the blame on Jeff Koons, the yuppie banker who parlayed his skillset into becoming the founding artist of the Capitalist Hyperrealist movement, predicated on an infinitely shiny, infinitesimally superficial lack of deeper meaning, and in doing so, brought whimsy into the mainstream.
It is difficult to pinpoint the moment when whimsy escaped from the birthday parties of six-year-old girls and into the business of serious art. We might suppose that this was in the same moment intelligent women stole cupcakes from their daughters. I personally place the shift at about 10 years ago when I noticed a large dog sitting by Circular Quay.
There are many things to loathe about Jeff Koons. Much of his work is a triumph of money and plastic. Even when he does not work in plastic, he seems, somehow, to be hygienically safeguarded against any infection by meaning. This, to me, is his gravest offence and the primary impact of his stupid sculpture Puppy.Which suggests that the kooky, twee whimsy that infects White-People consumer culture is itself a necessary consequence of the rise of postmodernism. The question is: what mechanism leads from A (the state in which it is a truth universally acknowledged that Everything Is A Market and that nothing has any intrinsic meaning deeper than the price that the market will bear for it) to B (the ascendance of cupcakes, polka dots and Manic Pixie Dream Girls with ukuleles to cultural universality).
Meanwhile, the Graun's Jonathan Jones puts the boot into Damien Hirst, Blatcherite Britain's answer to Jeff Koons:
But from a British point of view, don't you feel thrilled that the most outrageous artist in the world, the most hated and reviled, is from these shores? I mean, we used to be crippled by good taste – or rather, people saw us that way. How did it come about that a British artist outdid Andy Warhol as a businessman and Jeff Koons as a master of kitsch? It is surely a national triumph.
Something happened in Britain in the 1980s and 90s that tore up the national rule book – in politics, economics and art. Hirst, whatever your feelings about him, is a symbol of that time of change. And like it or not, at a time when we wonder what is coming next, he flies the flag for a provocative and electrifying world image of Britain. Just like Thatcher did.One could make a case that Damien Hirst's art is to Thatcherism-Blairism what Rodchenko's constructivism was to the young USSR and banners of heroic peasants waving red flags were to Maoism; it was the house style of an ideology, in this case one combining the naked free market of Thatcherism with the feel-good spin of Blairism.
A teenaged graffiti artist in London has been arrested after stealing a box of pencils which were part of a Damien Hirst art installation. The purloined pencils have been valued at £500,000, making this potentially one of the highest value art thefts in modern Britain.
The graffiti artist in question goes by the name of Cartrain, and those who have been in Shoreditch over the past few years may have seen his works. It is probably fair to describe him as being like a mediocre, though relentlessly self-promoting, Banksy wannabe. He does vaguely "edgy"/"subversive" stencil art, albeit crudely executed and with little thought put into its meaning; the average Cartrain piece seems to be a bunch of hot-button subjects ("look, Ronald McDonald in a prison jumpsuit! That says something about, umm, capitalism or globalisation or something...") randomly mashed together in a desperate, attention-seeking bid to be controversial. Then again, Cartrain is, by all accounts, only 17 years old, and a product of the values of the Thatcherite-Blairite marketing society, a society in which what Erich Fromm called the Marketing Personality has become the norm. Growing up in the Marketing Society, you learn that you are not just yourself but Brand You, a commodity whose value is constantly plotted on an invisible stock exchange, and only losers miss opportunities to promote themselves and maximise their market value. (Of course, Damien Hirst and his fellow veterans of Saatchi and Cool Britannia, are prime exemplars of success in the Marketing Society.) Needless to say, this is a lesson young Cartrain seems to have taken to heart, and while he may not have honed the skills of fine draftsmanship or developed an original voice that says anything more than blurting a word salad of vaguely "edgy" concepts, he has his own art dealer selling his juvenilia while he's still a juvenile. (Should you wish to buy some, you can do so here.)
Cartrain's first run-in with Hirst was when he used a photograph of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull sculpture, "For The Love Of God", to use in a collage, which he sold online. Hirst, canny intellectual-property entrepreneur that he is, brought the full weight of copyright law down, and had Cartrain's artworks seized. In retaliation, Cartrain allegedly purloined the pencils from Hirst's "Pharmacy" installation at Tate Britain, posting a police wanted poster and a ransom demand, in which he threatened to sharpen the pencils unless his artworks were returned. A few weeks later, he and his father were arrested by the Art and Antiques Squad. The box of pencils was, according to the police, a very rare "Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series", worth half a million pounds, whose theft damaged a £10-million public artwork.
The Guardian's art critic Jonathan Jones has a thought-provoking critique of Banksy:
One of Banksy's most irritating attributes is his conservatism, as an artist who seems proud of the fact that he "draws", rather than just making "concepts". He appeals to people who hate the Turner prize. It's art for people who think that artists are charlatans. This is what most people think, so Banksy is truly a popular creation: a great British commonsense antidote to all that snobby pretentious art that real people can't understand. Yet to put your painting in a public place and make this demand on attention while putting so little thought into it reveals a laziness in the roots of your being.
Perhaps the rise of Banksy is the fall of Art - that is, the waning of art as the force it has been in recent culture. A decade ago, the art of the Damien Hirst generation pushed itself into anyone's view of what was happening in Britain. Probably the rise of Banksy means that moment is coming to an end; people care more about other things. He is a background artist, as in background music: like all graffiti, his is essentially an accompaniment to other activities. Chunky sprayed-letter graffiti is a background to skateboarding. Banksy is a background to hating New Labour. The reason to admire Damien Hirst is that he makes art as if art mattered. In Banksy, the philistines are getting their revenge.