In anticipation of Damien Hirst’s monster car boot sale at Sotheby’s (Beautiful Inside My Head Forever), a number of profiles and articles have reflected on his status as ultimate art world celebrity (and his ballsy move of cutting out his dealers the Gagosian Gallery and the White Cube). The New York Times detailed the lengths Sotheby’s has gone to in preparation of the well-heeled, who will supposedly flock like dead bees to the honey:
Sotheby’s reinforced its floors to show Mr. Hirst’s dead animals. (The calf weighs 10 tons.) And it hired the New York architect Peter Marino to transform a rabbit warren of tiny back offices into a suite of rooms for V.I.P. buyers, with polished mahogany doors and walls lined with Mr. Hirst’s butterfly paintings. The space resembles a five-star hotel; several rooms have fireplaces and all are equipped with flat-screen televisions to allow buyers to watch the sale live and secretly bid by telephone.
Robert Hughes in the Guardian, however, is nothing if not critical:
If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate’s Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his “ideas”. This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.
Actually, the presence of a Hirst in a collection is a sure sign of dullness of taste. What serious person could want those collages of dead butterflies, which are nothing more than replays of Victorian decor? What is there to those empty spin paintings, enlarged versions of the pseudo-art made in funfairs? Who can look for long at his silly sub-Bridget Riley spot paintings, or at the pointless imitations of drug bottles on pharmacy shelves? No wonder so many business big-shots go for Hirst: his work is both simple-minded and sensationalist, just the ticket for newbie collectors who are, to put it mildly, connoisseurship-challenged and resonance-free.
I like a bit of invective with my morning espresso. You?
For future customers, Hirst has a number of smaller sharks waiting in large refrigerators, and one of them is currently on show in its tank of formalin in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Inert, wretched and wrinkled, and already leaking the telltale juices of its decay, it is a dismal trophy of – what? Nothing beyond the fatuity of art-world greed. The Met should be ashamed. If this is the way America’s greatest museum brings itself into line with late modernist decadence, then heaven help it, for the god Neptune will not.
What would Thomas Campbell say? Certainly an estimate of £50-80,000 feels a little steep for a pencil & ink drawing of his shark, let alone the shark itself which sold for $8 million a few months ago. Is the upcoming auction a sure sign of the artcopalypse, or will it be a fiasco for Hirst?
**UPDATE**: Read on for Germaine Greer’s spirited defense (?) of Hirst… responding no doubt as well to the Channel 4 documentary ‘The Mona Lisa Curse’ presented by Hughes that aired on Sunday (you can watch it here if you missed it!)