Friday, February 20, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Becoming a Symbol of Your Era

It seems like forever ago now that art world pundits were gobsmacked by the recession-mocking success of Damien Hirst's direct-to-auction sale of what (at least, for most other artists) looked like a life-time of inventory. Seemingly destined to become synonymous with the boom art market itself, Mr. Hirst's sale spawned predictions that, in retrospect, bring to mind the joke about the fortune cookie that read "Your strength lies in your continued belief that what you just ate was indeed duck." Predictions such as:
A statement by Hirst said that “the future looks great for everyone”. Ollie Barker, the Sotheby's specialist who helped to plan the sale and was the auctioneer, said that his team was overwhelmed by the response and was expecting further artist-led auctions.

“We don't know where this is going to lead to in the future. This company is 250 years old and this is the first time we've worked with a living artist in this way but it is bound to present further opportunities.”
But it hasn't taken long for the hero of New Bond Street to reap the rewards that seem to always await the symbols of one's own era, especially when it all goes pear shaped: Mr. Hirst has become "the" art world target in this winter of discontent.

From Madrid, we hear of Eugenio Merino's tasteless statement:
Spanish artist Eugenio Merino shocked visitors at ARCO, the Madrid International Contemporary Art Fair, with a graphic sculpture that shows art world bad-boy Damien Hirst shooting himself in the head, Bloomberg reports.

"Hirst is always trying to think of ways to make his art the most expensive," the artist told Bloomberg. "If he killed himself, then the value of his art would increase a lot."

The work, called For the Love of Gold, in a riff on Hirst's $100 million diamond-and-platinum skull called For the Love of God, shows the artist kneeling with a Colt 45 pressed against his temple. The silicone figure uses real human hair and glass eyes and is wearing a skull T-shirt. It's housed inside a tank similar to the ones Hirst has used for his works that preserve animals in formaldehyde.
See here for an image.

And from England, even more backlash:
A collective of British artists has come to the aid of Cartrain, a 16-year-old artist who was forced to forfeit £200 ($284) in profit to Damien Hirst after the art-world superstar threatened to sue the teenager over the use of an image of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God.

According to the Independent, the creators of the Web site Red Rag to a Bull, who include Jimmy Cauty, a former member of the band The KLF; Jamie Reid, the designer of the cover for the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen single; and artist Billy Childish, have produced a series of limited-edition prints that mock Hirst's copyright claims to the diamond skull.

"Unlike Cartrain and his gallery, we are not intimidated by lawyers, and if an injunction is issued, we will simply ignore it on the grounds of freedom of speech," Cauty wrote to the Independent.

The prints, grouped under the title For the Love of Disruptive Strategies and Utopian Visions in Contemporary Art and Culture, include various depictions of the infamous skull. One of them shows a man with the skull for his head reading a book titled A Guide to Copyright and Intellectual Property Law.
See here for some images.

The collective does offer this disclaimer, mind you:
"We would like to point out... that although this appeal was focused on the Hirst vs Cartrain episode, it was intended to be a creative exercise that mocked and exposed the idiocy [of] an overbearing and thoughtless approach to copyright control that creates fear and censorship in the arts," the creators wrote. "It was and is not a critical crusade against Damien Hirst as an artist or the nature and degree of his success."
...suggesting it's not the man or his art that's being targeted, but rather what he's come to symbolize. Then again, Jamie Reid was quoted as calling Hirst a "hypocritical and greedy art bully," so there is a bit of personal resentment at play in all this.

I'm sure Damien can brush off the feedback; he built his empire on sheer grit and street smarts. Then again, the downturn is still young.

Labels: art market


Blogger George said...

Sorry if this is a repeat but here's another link to the images. webpage with all the images in scrollable form.

This is a great project - better than the Hirst originals, no wonder he's irritated

2/20/2009 09:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Nobody forces anyone to buy Hirst so I don't see why blame the artist?

In fact, people buying Hirst are Hirst's problem and why he resolves on gimmickry: repeating 5 or 6 series over and over with an important piece of each once in a while. If people didn't buy he would just do the important pieces. His popularity is his loss and waste of time.

Cedric Casp

2/20/2009 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

If there is a drive to simple and practical in the world culture, I can't see anything but a radical reinvention saving his sort of art. Even if his art was a parody of conspicuous consumption.

He's smart, but parody has a way of evening the field. We will see how true the saying "There is no such thing as bad publicity" in this case, I am sure.

2/20/2009 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Hirst's success doesn't bother or threaten me. The more artists who are successful, and the more kinds of art that are successful - the more ways of being an artist and making art that prove successful - the better for me and all artists. If the fear is that there's a limited amount of recognition and monetary reward available to us out there (and a "fake" is sucking up most of it), then prove this fear is real - show me evidence of the caps on these things. I just don't think the real world is as limited as we often/sometimes think it is. Not even in these times. So, whatever your place in the art world, stop draining your spirit by scratching that Hirst-shaped boil on your behind and start creating something excellent.

2/20/2009 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

"Your strength lies in your continued belief that what you just ate was indeed duck."

....can I have that for facebook?

2/20/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hirst is to art what Broad is to collecting what AIG is to banking. At what point does narcissism become pathology?

2/20/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

.can I have that for facebook?

anything for you darling... anything appropriated or otherwise.

2/20/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...


(I guess the use is fair!)

2/20/2009 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

"I'm sure Damien can brush off the feedback..."

I suppose, but he's become irrelevant, a latter day Salvador Dali.

However, I don't think that's the significant point here. What's most interesting to me is how quickly we have moved through the inflection point and turned the page away from the big guns of the late twentieth century.

Damien, like an aging pornstar in a plaid skirt can no longer be the "bad boy" and the new bad boys are using him as fodder.

By now the sheer hubris of the auction market cheerleaders has been laid to waste, as art's obsession with money is viewed with distaste. Cultural events often occur symbolically at the points of inflection and I'm suggesting that the "Red Rag To A Bull" collective is at the forefront of change.

Their action represents a rejection of past fantasies and opens the door to the future.

2/20/2009 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Folks, I’d be leery of being sucked in by what I see as a probable “rope a dope” routine.

“…” is probably in cahoots with this kid, knows that this kind of tempest in a teapot is worth a million times more than the 200₤ for copyright infringement, and ether way “…”’ll be credited with making yet another Young Brit art star. Heads you win, tails you win.

2/20/2009 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger richard said...

As Edward said, "he built his empire on sheer grit and street smarts..."

He certainly didn't build it on originality

This is funny, reminds me of another similar and not very original artist like jack pierson. Once they get a market they decide to try and sue over unoriginal ideas.

2/20/2009 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Why are we talking about diamond encrusted skulls again.

With out Hirst no "Fall Guy"

No "Straight Man"

No duck soup.

Nice PR loop though.

Didn't warhol say just last year that the best art is PR?

A 25 year old won 3 million near my house. I feel so fortunate.

or we could talk about we talk about

James Kalm instead?

He's the guy on the diamond encrusted aluminium bike.

2/20/2009 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

anyone have a recipe for mock apple pie? I'm poor.

2/20/2009 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I’ll gladly take out my pocket screwdriver and pry a few gems out of my “diamond encrusted aluminium bike” for ya, but I could never mock apples, I’d get accused of being insensitive to fruit.

2/20/2009 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger John Hovig said...

Zip, Maybe you're looking for some zircon-encrusted tweezers ... but if it's diamonds, bikes and sharks you seek, here's something I google-shopped in honor of our new shark-jumping hero. Enjoy it a-la-mode. (Unless you're insensitive to ice cream).

2/20/2009 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

Was hoping you would post about this. I enjoy reading your views. The original report said the group was working with the Stuckists, but apparently that is not so. Mind if I add a link to this on the link section of the posts I made about the two topics on the Myartspace Blog? Or should I just do that instead of asking first?

2/20/2009 11:41:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Shit, are we going to get sued Ed? There's that pesky skull in Volume 2... Actually, I hope we do! Like James said it's a win/win.

2/21/2009 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Who you calling "we," white man?


Been sued before...our lawyer's worth every penny.

2/21/2009 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Well, I assume that Compound Editions stands behind the work of the J&B collaborative. We aim to displease. It's not art if there's no litigation...

2/21/2009 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Rob Hitzig said...

Damien Hirst playing the rope-a-dope by threatening to sue a 16 year old for 200 pounds? Brilliant! I don't know what is more brilliant, thinking to do it or thinking that he is doing it. Whether you like his art or not isn't the point, he is a zen master money machine that can teach all of us something about making a living with art.

2/21/2009 05:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damien who?

2/21/2009 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Please spare me this line of thinking. It doesn't matter what he does at this point in time, his market is established and consists of relatively conservative collectors with no real vision.

"Get me a butterfly painting" are we being serious here about what is going to drive art into the 21st century. After a certain amount of time in the sun one gets sunburned and that is what has occurred.

Most people tend to focus where everyone else is looking, that is NEVER where the new art comes from and now is no different., Rope-a-dope, who are we kidding? Some failed point of view which panders to the present folly, the bouncer at the door? Screw it, not for me.

2/21/2009 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

If this is a single party rope-a-dope scheme, then the 16-year-old would be the "brilliant" one, putting himself in what looks (at first) like a vulnerable position, in order to tempt Hirst to foolishly attack. But if there's collusion between the parties, they both get credit for the scheme, and a bad reputation as human beings. Their art, of course, will be judged on its own merits - or lack thereof.

2/22/2009 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I think Hirst would get a good laugh out of Merino's sculpture.

Regarding Zip's Warhol quote from last year, that just goes to prove that Andy faked his death too. I always knew it...

2/23/2009 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger lives works in said...

Damien Hirst wouldn't kill himself like that.. he'd do it like this

2/26/2009 06:50:00 PM  

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