Monday, July 28, 2014

when it comes to damien hirst julian spalding is all over the place


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critic julian spalding drops the bomb in a recent article for the dailymail. 
 I had dared to say what many of my colleagues secretly think: Con Art, the so-called Conceptual Art movement, is little more than a money-spinning con, rather like the emperor’s new clothes. That goes for the ‘artist’ Carl Andre who sold a stack of bricks for £2,297. It goes for Marcel Duchamp, whose old ‘urinal’ was bought by the Tate for $500,000 (about £300,000). It goes for Tracey Emin’s grubby old bed. And, of course, it goes for Damien Hirst.
against-the-grainess is always stimulating. but to prove that con art = conceptual art? 

dumping hirst with duchamp implicitly demotes duchamp at the level of a "con," but conning conceptual art (i.e., that the concept behind the object is more important than its instantiation) is not, by far, enough to convince anybody. i don't know where spalding wants to go with this, but since conceptual art goes back to early 20th century and has three incarnations, one would assume he should discuss (and provide) a historical argument (none of it here).

never mind, with the audience stunned at the critic's courageous declaration, it's time to his thesis:
But why is it art? ‘Because it makes you feel something.’ When I asked what it makes them feel, most referred me to the guidebook explanations. What quickly becomes apparent is that it is like a religion.
(i have my doubts with "feel" as a reliable aesthetic broker) the reason is that different people normally offer different responses to a given stimulus. on the other hand, as vague as it is, explaining one's feelings is a start. do i seem a little impatient? let's give spalding his time.
I found out what propels people, many of whom rarely visit art galleries, to queue for 60 minutes for this marketing circus. ‘Is it art?’ I asked and pointed at a shark preserved in formaldehyde, a wall of dots, and flies feasting on a dead cow’s head.
"i found out what propels people"?

when i read this i think of actual empirical evidence. do you picture spalding polling, i.e., taking the time to furnish each person in line to see hirst's exhibit with a scripted quiz and then proceed to tabulate the responses for this article?
Everyone is strangely committed to the cult of Hirst – but few can articulate what is fantastic about a soggy, sad-looking shark, preserved in a vitrine with all the menace of a sagging sofa. 
spalding's ad hominem is not doing the best job at explaining why hirst' "art" is really not art. even if vitriol has its place -19th century french and british critics like barbey d'aurevilly & wilde used it sparingly. yet, the critic should (for the sake of his own argument) try to keep his/her bias in check.    

then,
Created by a Turner Prize winning artist, the dead tiger shark, grandly named The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, should be one of the great artworks of the last century, yet most visitors spent less than three seconds looking at it. 
and so many visitors could equally -totally- ignore this mondrian,


or this rothko,


which doesn't suggest that there's a problem with the paintings -nor for that matter with the people's lack of attention. people go to museums for different reasons: to see and be seen, to partake of so called culture, to validate their taste or distaste, etc. standing in front of a painting is as fuzzy as a politician averring his honesty.

in fact, with a lot of modern art, one must develop predispositions to understand what one sees. for instance, one may need different abstract glasses for the mondrian and the rothko above (they belong in different styles).

let's come back to spalding:
Traditionally, in exhibitions of ‘real art’, visitors cluster around the paintings or sculptures while the rest of the gallery is empty. The Hirst exhibition is another matter. People mill about like unmagnetised iron filings. Why? Nobody is engaged. One enormous spot painting is half hidden behind a formaldehyde-preserved cow. Smaller vitrines containing skulls are dumped on the floor at random.  
once again, betting on people's "attention" to discuss aesthetic evaluations is -at best- chancy.
But it is the rotting cow head, called A Thousand Years, that I can’t bear to look at. Blood trickles out of it, swarms of flies feast on it and the horrific stench is pumped into the gallery. ‘It’s very macabre,’ says Craig Thurlby. What an understatement. ‘I interpret the flies and cow as life and death, so I guess it has meaning and stuff,’ says Craig.
is spalding not begging the question of whether hirst is a con artist by appealing to his own feelings to establish the very conclusion he's set out to prove? it's like saying: "the reason i hate your work is because of the way it makes me feel."

in parenthesis, why should one eschew the macabre?


can you smell the rot & hear the hellish quavering inside this boschian nightmare?

i expected much more. i've read spalding's the eclipse of art and found his arguments against contemporary art quite interesting. here he's just cerebrating in circles.

at some point, the critic explores a promising angle:
I’ve long believed him to be a money-hungry charlatan but as the richest living artist at the age of 46, he must be doing something right.
then he misses his opportunity with this platitude:
It was at Goldsmiths that he met Charles Saatchi, who would propel him from chancer to millionaire before they parted company in 2003 after a disagreement over the way Hirst’s works were staged at Saatchi’s gallery. Around that time, Hirst admitted: ‘I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it.’ Which raises the question: is he consciously playing us for fools?
what's spalding's point really? we get a philippic against conceptual art buttressed on what? "feel"? people's attention? the macabre?

spalding is all over the place & hirst is just a cog in the machine!

(to be continued)

1 comment:

Ophear Art said...

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