FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Damning the Dealers

Damien Hirst specializes in gnomic incantations about his work.  He produces what art critic Robert Hughes has termed ‘absurd’ and ‘tacky commodities.’  Take his The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living – for Hughes, a tacky, even wacky marine organism, ‘the world’s most over-rated’ shark.

Perhaps one of the most recognisable figures of the art world, Hirst has now taken his war against those commissioning wizards, the art dealers.  On Monday, his broadsides were fired across at Sotheby’s (titled ‘Beautiful Inside my Head Forever’) in London, where an auction house, for the first time, sold new work.  There were 56 lots to be gotten through, and dealers had to look on from the sidelines.

Hirst’s process of exiling the art dealer was modern in another sense.  As Jackie Wullschlager of the Financial Times (UK) pointed out, his method of ‘disintermediation’ was much like the ‘way bands sell music, or companies sell stocks, online rather than through record companies and brokers.’

It was always a risk, and the global art dealership were hoping Hirst’s gamble would reap ruinous returns.  Some art critics were probably wishing the same.  This was far from the case – the art market, if nothing else, gave us Hirst and this collusion with commercial bling.  The Sotheby’s auction fetched a handsome £70 million.  The Golden Calf, a dead bull suspended in trademark formaldehyde, equipped with golden horns and hooves in gold placed frame, alone sold for £10.3 million.

This was Hirst’s secret: he may be world renown, but he is not as renown as Sotheby’s.  Most passers-by wouldn’t be able to name a single work by the man, but they would be able to tell you the name of a known auction house.  It’s all in the branding.  Attributes, or the self-defining spiritual nature of the work in question, are secondary.

Hirst did two things: strike a blow at the conventional relationship between artist (at least known ones) and dealers of their work; and reaffirm the commercial force of his name. We might get into more trouble if we assess the artistic merit of what he sold, though the auctioneers had to do their own share of branding.  Despite having little clue, one managing his work on Monday intoned that, ‘The quality of the work has really shone through.’  The usual meaningless terms followed: ‘exquisite’, ‘powerful’.  The list goes on.  Hirst couldn’t care less.  He likes formaldehyde.  And cows and sharks.

Art works such as Hirst’s are not merely grand spectacles popularized by dumbfounded critics – they are also assets.  The global art market is a huge investment – more so than a collector’s aesthetic pursuit.  When the oil assets deplete, Hirst’s formaldehyde-drenched creatures will take the tab and cover the running expenses of the rich, should they ever need them.  Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs know this and are rapidly accumulating works of ‘art’ like blue chip stocks.

Hirst has been labeled a clown, a joker rather than a deep-thinking tormented type who is likely to disintegrate in self-doubt and drive off a cliff.  But he is the one calling everyone else’s bluff.  Andy Warhol, prophet of artistic shallowness, may well have been right: ‘art is what you can get way with.’

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail