You know him right? The guy that painted multi-coloured dots, painted butterflies over and over again, the guy that sold a diamond skull for $80 million? Actually he only painted a few dot paintings himself, and the others along with the butterflies selling for tens of thousands at places like Montreal’s own Galerie de Bellefeuille, were all made by assistants; oh and that skull was reportedly sold for cash to a consortium including an anonymous businessman, the artist himself and his representative White Cube Gallery, making the proof of sale impossible.
It’s only fair to say Damien Hirst is about more than money, he used to be good at conceptual art, but that was before the money started to pour in from rich buyers. His “A Thousand Years” broke all the rules when it came to contemporary art, and managed to produce one of the most significant pieces of the 90s; Lucian Freud said to Hirst about the work: “I think you started with the final act, my dear.”
Hirst was part of the YBA (Young British Artists) who mostly graduated from the Fine Arts course at the prestigious Goldsmith College London. They reinvented UK art scene and once again put Britain back on the map as a place where art can flourish.
Hirst organised the first Freeze Exhibition in 1988, which brought YBA to the attention of investors like Charles Saatchi who in turn added money into the equation and thus changing the game altogether. Artists like Hirst started to get commissions which gave them freedom to experiment at first, however soon started to stifle their creativity.
It became apparent that to make money from what you think is art, you should also be a good businessman and a marketing machine, and so the age of artist salesman once again began. However this time around it was very different from the age of Andy Warhol and his Factory. This time money was in abundance and flowed in easier than wine. Art made many people rich, including a few commercially savvy artists.
Hirst’s studio started to produce reproductions and works done by assistances, and they sold, and buyer bought in hopes of making a few dollars in the future; however the quality was sacrificed for profit. With bursting of the financial bubble it also meant a burst in the Art bubble, yet Hirst once again managed to display his might as a businessman by using the auction house Sotheby’s to make nearly $160 million in 2008.
We must ask ourselves whether we judge good art by sale figures, and Tate Modern answered unreservedly “no” this year by having a Damien Hirst retrospective and refusing to include later works. This move is a rejection of Hirst’s international house of business, and embracement of ideas and concepts behind art.
The exhibition at Tate shows Hirst at his best, using creativity to inspire, excite, shock and engage. White Cube Gallery, the ever opportunist establishment that they are, decided to exhibit Hirst’s new paintings, which are done by himself in the past two years, this summer at the same time as Tate; no doubt to prove Tate wrong, and also attract more visitors and buyers.
Alas, the new paintings on exhibition only demonstrate how far Hirst has drifted from the shores of reason. His paintings are works of an unskilled, self-deluded, self-obsessed wannabe painter who is trying ever so hard to place himself amongst the greats by a schizophrenic mishmash of copying concepts. There are no clear and identifiable subjects, themes or moods within these paintings. It is as though an adolescent is showing off, and White Cube the ever cunning guardian applauds him.
It became apparent within a short period this summer that money has caused Damien Hirst to go from innovation to bouts of Megalomania; because he should never have painted, he is simply not a painter. The trouble with becoming a rich artist is that you are surrounded by yes men who are there to satisfy their own hunger for money and notoriety, so they keep saying how great you are whilst you go down the toilet.
Mark Rothko has been quoted as saying: “When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption.” The problem has not been the existence of money or the galleries, but the way the two have been used to manipulate the art scene.