The Fall of Damien Hirst

diamond-skull.jpgFirst, Hirst made some mundane medical paintings in a series named “The Elusive Truth” that I saw at Gagosian two years ago (Village Voice’s review of the show), then earlier this year he (inadvertently?) stole a fellow artists idea of creating stainglass windows out of butterfly wings (source), and most recently, he’s conjured up some mundane 18th century white male skull covered with diamonds called “For the love of God,” though “For the love of Money[sic]” could’ve been more appropriate.

The art work has a whopping price tag of 50 million pounds ($98 million) and the allusions to the art world’s aspirations to a status of religion are not lost on observers, but the object is anything but intriguing (though, admittedly, I have not seen it in person).

diamond-skull-2.jpgEven before his latest work, people have long seen through Hirst’s artistic facade and spotted parallels between him and the ultimate art huckster Jeff Koons–ArtCritical’s David Cohen was the first to spot the similiarities, though one blogger points out some funny commonalities: medicine glass cabinets replacing vacuums in windows; shark in formaldehyde replacing basket ball in water; and gigantic replicate of an handicapped doll replacing a gigantic replicate of a balloon puppy. (source)

Cohen says in his cleverly titled review of his medical paintings, titled “Our Foremost Victorian Painter”:

For all that he might want to be the next Andy Warhol, glamorizing death, Mr. Hirst is on his way instead to being a latter-day Salvador Dalí: He has found fame and fortune taking a chic artworld nihilism out to the masses but in the process has rendered himself artistically marginal.

Mr. Hirst clearly delights in playing to the press, in making work that in its instantly accessible language is broadly appealing (the revulsion neatly packaged). He tackles the universal, existential themes — life, decay, death — with shameless literalism. But the bigger his audience and subjects get to be, the more Mr. Hirst seems to will himself to the footnotes of art. (source)

I assume that the bejeweled skull will eventually end up in some Texan’s museum or an oil-rich Gulf nation. In fact, the skull is almost sold, according to Bloomberg News, and the deal may be sealed this week. (source)

Well, let the super-rich have their diamond-encrusted dead white European male skull…the rest of us can buy a ticket to the Hirst-carnival at London’s White Cube to see the shocking art work in person–and if you can’t make it to London, at least check out the BBC report.

As the current art world superstar, Hirst is in any discussion of the most renowned artists in the world today. His prices attract attention and if you look at the wealth of Hirst videos on YouTube alone you’ll realize his unique place in pop culture, particularly the folklore attached to the zany artist/creator:

Perhaps the dream of selling $98 million art works fuels the lowest rungs of the art world and makes young artists hungry to sell their wares, if that’s the case then my bigger question is—Is Hirst’s role as the top of the art world pyramid justified? Maybe.

He’s masterful with his PR and has adapted his practice to the mass market’s need for easily understood metaphors and simple but exaggerated ideas.

Like any product of culture, only time will tells….but the newer media-friendly Hirst is a world away from the Hirst of decades past, when he seemed to be a fruitful well of interesting ideas.

I personally don’t think the world (art or otherwise) has been enriched by any idea he’s produced in the last few years, which is unfortunate. Now, it seems that his art products simply take up space and generate buzz.

If there is another act of the great play that is Damien Hirst is not apparent yet, but some of us keenly following the art world are starting to think that this long running production by one of the finest leading men may have ultimately run its course.

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