Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hirst and Banksy: Butterflies of a Feather?

Damien Hirst: Cathedral Print, Duomo 2007 - spotted at Phillips de Pury, Park Ave Evening Collections
Article: 9,000 butterflies killed in Hirst's latest artwork

VIDEO: Damien Hirst Retrospective at the Tate Modern, April 2012

In the space of hours my inbox has been deluged with news stories about mega-artist Damien Hirst.

The first is about his new website complete with Hirst-cam. Two cameras (when they're switched on) are trained on his worktable, platoons of assistants and hopefully, fleeting glimpses of the man himself: www.damienhirst.com

The second is about a new series of Hirst multiples selling at the 2012 Affordable Art Fair, a place where, the career-conscious have told me, an artist might start, spend one, maybe two seasons ("tops"), and hopefully never "need" to return. In this exhibit, his dealer Manifold Editions is offering his spot series as woodcuts, a word my brain unfortunately flummoxes with "woodblocks" and immediately pops up a opicture of a Japanese wave and Fuji. Spot Challenger Alex Nochese sleuthed it out and reports "AFF had very small single spot prints for $1,500; nothing at AAF is over 10,000. The rest were 1500-4000 and relatively small to medium size."

The third was a series of Hirst poster downloads, though I don't know if they'd be digitally signed.  Put them behind museum glass and who'd be the wiser?

The fourth is a particularly snarky Independent op-ed titled "Damien Hirsts are the sub-prime of the art world." Here, author Julian Spalding is hell bent on blowing the whistle on the Hirst-led "art bubble," and urges people to "sell their Hirsts now before the crash." And presumeably, buy his book.

All this can be seen as merely the frothy foam of Hirst's current retrospective at the Tate Modern.

Yours truly having a field day with Hirst's spots at the Gagosian Davies St London, on the Damien Hirst Spot Challenge
You can make a lot of frenemies arguing about art vs commerce. Indeed, when I decided to do the Spot Challenge, reactions from friends, beau and onlookers ranged from "What a waste of time" to "he's a con man" to "what a great idea - just do it!"

ART <----------- your favorite artist somewhere along here ---------> COMMERCE

I confess that as a former Saatchi & Saatchi scribbler (in three countries) I have no problem standing at the junction of art meets commerce and staring off into the distance in either direction. Art nourishes the soul, commerce nourishes our dinner table. Or rather, commerce enables us to live, art gives us something to live for. Yet most artists are expected to be underpaid and live in poverty, because of a sense that "they're having fun and I'm not" or "art is not necessary to life."

Hirst has successfully bridged that divide. Regardless of whether you like him or not, he's at least producing something we can choose to admire or even download for our wall, something tangible cheaper and a lot less dangerous than derivative.

1. What makes art, art? According to minimalist giant Frank Stella, it is "if you say it is," I explored this in my SVA essay, based on satirist Steven Colbert's skit in which he invited three mega-famous artists to doodle over a particularly odious inkjet print, and then asked Steve Martin if he'd buy it. He didn't, but it sold for $27K at auction to benefit a worthy cause.

2. What is "ultimate power" for an artist? To have your work reach the status of the Mona Lisa? I propose an alternative: what if Hirst reverse-engineered his success by flooding the market with fakes, reducing the work of his work to zero, then going off and doing something else? He's got the money to do it.


"The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" (Damien Hirst)

"Can't see it happening - because people will always buy into the idea," said my art loving friend and professor Economics, Ed.

Proving, that it's not about art, it's about the people, and the mystique.

I wrote an article "challenging" Banksy to reverse engineer himself here. I hallucinate that Hirst is quietly going through ticking them off himself. What do you think?

A simple spin painting on a small sheet of letter sized paper, rumored to be the work of one of Hirst's kids.
It was successfully auctioned for a few thousand dollars at Phillips de Pury. 

Related links:

Art me up: Learning to collect and critique at the SVA

Banksy and Paris Hilton: Getting it right by being very wrong










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