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

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail