Dirty Sexy Money

Posted in Debate, Opinion by Adele Todd on September 9, 2008

The artist Damien Hirst is selling his work at the famous auction house Sotherby’s. This latest ‘antic’ of his has played right into the hands of those who love to give him free press. The question that I am posing in this article is, what exactly is Mr. Hirst saying about art right now, and what are the implications of his actions?

I have stated in the past that an artist is an entertainer. Mr. Hirst knows this as a certainty. He has been able to draw attention to what he creates and he has more importantly encourage sale for what he makes. He continued in my opinion, the dialogue begun by the very prolific Jeff Koons, who as far as I am aware was the first to float an object in a tank of water as Art.

Not every work created by Mr. Hirst in his career has been remarkable, yet, he has managed to propel himself off of the controversy of his taxidermist centred works in tanks.

These works are indeed beautifully constructed and leave a haunting message, and they have gone on to influence fashion to graphic design, one of the many tests of the power of an artists’ skill. It cannot be argued that Hirst has brought some needed fire into the arena of Art today. Love him or hate him, most people cannot dismiss him. Yet, this latest manouvre of his, to sell his work at auction has left me feeling a bit cold. To me the work looks less like the sweat and rigour of a master, and more like the traversed movie set of a Tim Burton.

I do not say this easily. Listening to Mr. Hirst explain his golden calf piece, in the biggest gilded tank built for it, was painful to listen to. He sounded like a gauche billionnaire boasting about something that no one would want to create in the first place. Of itself,the calf is a reflection of mythology and religion, now seen in the context of the present. It is actually quite dramatic to look at. But Hirst’s explanation of it dumbs it down to a Liberace-like spectacle and not the remarkable object that it portends to be.

Is it possible that he is suffering from too much publicity perhaps? An artist able to make millions of pounds for his work is a wonderful thing. An artist who can command public attention on the scale that he does is also a boon to the artworld. The auction houses are known for selling the works of dead artists for fantastic prices. Hirst is getting attention for doing so for a living one. He is testing the bounderies of the art market and putting himself out in a risky way. All of this can backfire, and that is his challenge to himself. He is at the top of his game with very little else to prove. Is it possible that he is now becoming redundant? Is it also possible that he is too successful and we are now watching the decline of a once great artist?

Perhaps, but he certainly took us on an exciting ride.


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