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An artistic intervention? Hirst at Sotheby’s.

Hirst in front of Golden Calf

There has been a lot of talk recently about Damien Hirst‘s upcoming
auction at Sotheby’s, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, where he is slated to offer up 223 new works
directly to collectors, bypassing galleries completely. There’s been
talk about what this all means, whether this is the first blow to the
gallery system that will bring the whole thing crashing down.

Times Online has a particularly juicy piece about it , complete with a
video report on how it will probably change absolutely everything anyone ever knew about Art (uppercase necessary) forever. I don’t buy it for a second. There
is a disturbing piece of information provided to prove that This Is Very Important: Damien Hirst currently has 6 studios where his assistants
have been producing the 223 new works over the last 2 years. That makes
9.29 pieces per month, all in specific Hirst styles, like the dot
, or dead animals in formaldehyde with clever titles, or
butterflies on canvas, or spin paintings, or oversize
medical models
. Hirst, despite his sometimes gothy and
sometimes ravey inclinations, has become a Factory Of Art, in the same
vein as Takashi Murakami, or the granddaddy of them all, Andy Warhol. I
have great respect for Hirst and his work, but I am very troubled by
outsourcing on this scale and the ravenous capitalism that will
probably come from it. When art becomes this mass produced, doesn’t it
lose its aura
? Does it glide directly into the category of a commodity
to be conspicuously consumed? I’m not sure if this matters in the long
run. One hundred years from now, will people think differently of False
than they do of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of
Someone Living

Blogger and gallerist Edward Winkleman wrote a post on the matter in
which he focuses more on the relationship between an artist and his/her
gallery. It’s a very interesting read, though the comments are more
interesting than the post itself. It’s brought up that this is similar
to the Radiohead model of distribution, where an institution (artist,
musician, what have you) at the peak of its game, with the pockets and
the street cred to match the gutsiness of their power play, bypasses
the usual models of distribution to offer "product" directly to an
audience. In Radiohead’s case, it is fans, and in Hirst’s case,
collectors.  Most artists will never be able to pull off a move like
this, and most of Winkleman’s commentors agree that things will
probably not change too much because of Hirst’s Sotheby’s auction. A
particularly astute commentor by the name of William posts:

"What distinguishes Hirst’s move seems to be the novelty of it. It’s not
the impact on the market that I am interested in, but the very act
itself as an artistic intervention. I hope other people see this as something of performance in and of itself."

It’s a very interesting point, this one. In it, the actual artwork
becomes secondary. These 223 new works are transsubstantiated into
props in an "artistic intervention," like buying an edition of a video,
or documentation of a performance. There is a very grotesque nihilism
in this action if indeed, Hirst means it as an artistic
intervention. It belies a bleakness in the understanding and practice
of art that outdoes anything Warhol ever did and sets a new low (or
high, depending on your affiliation) in the business of art.

The New York Times has an article about the sale here
The Guardian reports that the first night of the auction brought in £70.5 million, or, more or less $126.28 million.

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1 Response

  1. David O

    I still wonder if the Glasstire message boards were some kind of art performance back when Sweetness was there.

    …and Capitalism rules.

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