FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Damning the Dealers

by BINOY KAMPMARK

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail