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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Damien Hirst

Spin Art
Damien Hirst, spots before his eyes.
Many (very many) years ago when I was an undergrad in college, (roughly 1970), I mounted a square box on a potter's wheel, placed cardboard in the bottom, then began rapidly rotating the box as I adding liquid tempera causing the centrifugal force to spin it outward over the cardboard (pretty much as seen above). Was that art? In a similar manner, I coated spherical objects such as marbles and golf balls with paint and rolled them around over a sheet of paper. One of my instructors questioned as to whether such random movement of inanimate objects constituted human creativity so later, I cut them up and made a collage. Though using traditional media, such work, at the time, stretched the definition of art into the realm of the conceptual raising the question often raised by British artist, Damien Hirst, which is more important, the concept (idea) or the resulting art? Hirst postulates the former over the latter, claiming that once the idea is established, virtually anyone (myself included) can "make" the art which can then be signed by the original concept-generating artist.
Spin painting, 1969, Annick Gendron
One of the problems with this theory is that concepts can easily be stolen. Plagiarism often raises its ugly head. Hirst has had an exceptional amount of litigation on both sides of this issue, all of which basically boils down to "who had the idea first?" In studying the provenance of such work one might think these artists spend more time suing one another than creating. Spin art, for example has been around since the 1960s (I stole the idea, though I never tried to sell such works). Damien Hirst, on the other hand, has, and in the process made millions (either in pounds or dollars). What he didn't make was the paintings themselves, which were done by studio assistants under his direction (not uncommon with Postmodern art). The same goes for his famous "spot" paintings (above left). If you think there's something new and slightly disreputable about such practices, you'd be wrong on both counts. The 17th century painter, Peter Paul Rubens (and others), ran virtual "art factories" populated by such apprentice assistants, not to mention Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons in more recent art history.

Beautiful Revolving Sphincter, Oops,
Brown Painting, 2003, Damien Hirst.
The Hirst spin. The titles of Hirst's
paintings are often more interesting
than the works themselves.
All of this is fascinating, and serves to illustrate the nature of conceptual art, but in fact, Hirst is far better known for his controversial "sculptural" installations than his paintings. You've no doubt heard of his love affair with formaldehyde in giant "vitrines" (custom made aquariums) preserving sharks, sheep, flies, maggots, and various bovine body parts powerful enough to once get his work banned from a U.S. show for public health reasons (they caused people to vomit). Now, before you dismiss all this with a disgusting UGHhhh...or maybe YUCK (take your pick), Damien Hirst is by far the richest artist in history with a reputed net worth of $358-million (hey, formaldehyde doesn't come cheap).

For the Love of God, 2007,
Damien Hirst
Just the cost of creating some of Hirst's works easily blows past record sales figures for most of his contemporaries. His diamond encrusted skull (recreated in platinum) titled, For the Love of God with its 8,601 diamonds weighing in at 1,106.18 carats, came too $24.6-million. The asking price at auction was $77.8-million. The work eventually sold for somewhat less than that. However in 2008, Hirst's one-man show, Beautiful Inside my Head Forever (218 pieces) at Sotheby's in London sold out for a record $198-million--more than ten times their previous record for a similar show. And that was without a single drop of formaldehyde.
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991, Damien Hirst
The work originally sold for around $73,000. The most recent price was $12-million.

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