Winter is almost over; we’ve even seen deer wandering around.
Archive for January 26th, 2009
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst (1991).
Robert Hughes on the auction of Damien Hirst’s work at Sotheby’s last September:
"If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate’s Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his "ideas". This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.
Actually, the presence of a Hirst in a collection is a sure sign of dullness of taste. What serious person could want those collages of dead butterflies, which are nothing more than replays of Victorian decor? What is there to those empty spin paintings, enlarged versions of the pseudo-art made in funfairs? Who can look for long at his silly sub-Bridget Riley spot paintings, or at the pointless imitations of drug bottles on pharmacy shelves? No wonder so many business big-shots go for Hirst: his work is both simple-minded and sensationalist, just the ticket for newbie collectors who are, to put it mildly, connoisseurship-challenged and resonance-free. Where you see Hirsts you will also see Jeff Koons’s balloons, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s stoned scribbles, Richard Prince’s feeble jokes and pin-ups of nurses and, inevitably, scads of really bad, really late Warhols. Such works of art are bound to hang out together, a uniform message from our fin-de-siècle decadence"
"Hirst is quite frank about what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t paint his triumphantly vacuous spot paintings – the best spot paintings by Damien Hirst are those painted by Rachel Howard. His undeniable genius consists in getting people to buy them. Damien Hirst is a brand, because the art form of the 21st century is marketing. To develop so strong a brand on so conspicuously threadbare a rationale is hugely creative – revolutionary even. The whole stupendous gallimaufrey is a Vanitas, a reminder of futility and entropy. Hughes still believes that great art can be guaranteed to survive the ravages of time, because of its intrinsic merit. Hirst knows better. The prices his work fetches are verifications of his main point; they are not the point. No one knows better than Hirst that consumers of his work are incapable of getting that point. His dead cow is a lineal descendant of the Golden Calf. Hughes is sensitive enough to pick up the resonance. "One might as well be in Forest Lawn [the famous LA cemetery] contemplating a loved one," he shouts at Hirst’s calf with the golden hooves – auctioned for £9.2m – but does not realise it is Hirst who has put that idea into his head. Instead he asserts that there is no resonance in Hirst’s work. Bob dear, the Sotheby’s auction was the work."
Yes but Hirst is filling his shorts with millions of pounds. Just like Warhol...Reflective of the age? Certainly. But hugely creative? Revolutionary? That would be Duchamp. An artistic genius? Brilliant bullshit artist more like it. I’m with Hughes.
The comprehensive literary criticism reading list I posted recently continues to grow. I’m also slowly adding links to original texts, where available; please, if you see something missing, let me know in the comments section. I plan to read and or re-read most of the titles during 2009, and report back with choice quotes, and impressions. Here’s Joseph Addison On Taste (The Spectator #409 Thursday, June 19, 1712):
"Notwithstanding this faculty must in some measure be born with us, there are several methods for cultivating and improving it [good taste], and with out which it will be very uncertain, and of very little use to the person that possesses it. The most natural Method for this Purpose is to be conversant among the Writings of the most Polite Authors. A Man who has any Relish for fine Writing, either discovers new Beauties, or receives stronger Impressions from the Masterly Strokes of a great Author every time he peruses him; Besides that he naturally wears himself into the same manner of Speaking and Thinking.
Conversation with Men of a Polite Genius is another Method for improving our Natural Taste. It is impossible for a Man of the greatest Parts to consider anything in its whole Extent, and in all its Variety of Lights. Every Man, besides those General Observations which are to be made upon an Author, forms several Reflections that are peculiar to his own Manner of Thinking; so that Conversation will naturally furnish us with Hints which we did not attend to, and make us enjoy other Men’s Parts and Reflections as well as our own. This is the best Reason I can give for the Observation which several have made, that Men of great Genius in the same way of Writing seldom rise up singly, but at certain Periods of Time appear together, and in a Body; as they did at Rome in the Reign of Augustus, and in Greece about the Age of Socrates. I cannot think that Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Boileau, la Fontaine, Bruyere, Bossu, or the Daciers, would have written so well as they have done, had they not been Friends and Contemporaries. It is likewise necessary for a Man who would form to himself a finished Taste of good Writing, to be well versed in the Works of the best Criticks both Ancient and Modern."
According to Johnson’s Dictionary, ‘Polite’ means smooth, Polished; refined. Elegant of Manners (Pope).