Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Damien Hirst: For the Love of God

Is it art? Sure it is. Is it good? That isn't the point.

I'm talking about Damien Hirst's now notorious diamond encrusted platinum skull, a piece he calls "For the Love of God," and hopes to sell for $100 million. That's him, licking it. Yes, it's art in the sense that a cardboard cut-out of a poor sap being sodomized, with a hole for the buyer to stick his or her face, could be called art. Let's get past that pre-modern question and agree that all of it's art.

I'd also like to speed past the idea that a piece of art like For the Love of God is good or not. Art critic Charlie Finch is right to compare the jewelled skull to the diamond bedazzled Victoria's Secret bra -- both are nothing more than precious stones assembled in patterns that spell out the names of their creators in big, gaudy letters. They are publicity stunts, and by writing about them, I have fallen for them. Oops.

But if I had to come up with a more sophisticated critique, I'd say that Hirst is desperately stalling the death of his showy art-star career by literally putting shiny, distracting things on top of a symbol of death, a cliche-ridden symbol at that, I might add, in echo of Mr. Finch. Yes, it references turquoise-encrusted skulls made by the ancient Aztecs, but contemporary art must do much more than reference its predecessors. No, to me it is Hirst's loss of inspiration made manifest.

And it has been dying a long, agonizing death. Remember, this is the artist who in 2001 installed some overflowing ashtrays and empty beer bottles in a gallery and called it art. Only to have the janitor mistake the installation for garbage left from the opening party. "I didn't think for a second that it was a work of art," the janitor told reporters later. "It didn't look much like art to me." That's because it actually was garbage.

Then again, mortality has been a bountiful theme for Hirst, who has embalmed large sharks and sheep, and erected stories-tall bronze women with cut-away views of their insides. It would be wrong if I were to dismiss this latest piece as if in a vacuum; I'm not. Further, I like Hirst's pharmaceutical packaging designs for mundane non-drug products, and I like his Virgin Mother statue.

Hirst's art is too often a mere spectacle, and For the Love of God, as many have noted, raises it to a level that will be hard for the artist to top.

Critic Jerry Saltz wrote in the Village Voice back in October 2000, "It's not an insult to say much of this work would blend in at Epcot Center, museums of science and industry, surgical colleges, restaurants, malls, or the Smithsonian." Isn't it? An insult, I mean. Depends on how you take your art. I like mine a little more intimate, a little less polished.



Blogger Screaming Annie said...

very nicely said.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Andy S. said...

I like what Ben Heywood, the director of the Soap Factory, had to say about this piece:

"...the problem with Hirst is that while he is an averagely good, albeit rather conservative artist, he is also, primarily, what my old friend Hannah Dawes used to call ‘a c**t’. That is, in the cockney sense of the word, an individual that delights in being as irritating, confrontational and aggravating as possible, to the extent that that being irritating, confrontational and aggravating is ALL he is. Hirst, White Cube and the mass media are locked in a slow death grip of disgust and loathing, in which they all know and fear that without that grip neither side amount to anything at all. Don't test or stretch the audience, just, with the greatest contempt, give them only what they want. We all want to hate the wealthy artist and be digusted at his excesses, to which desire Hirst delivers, proving, once and for all, that nothing exceeds like excess."

10:56 AM  

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