by Anna Koupourtidou
Damien Hirst’s creation - For the love of God- received plethora of critiques. His artwork evoked widespread commenting, by both the media and the press, since it was initially introduced to the public.
The creator alternatively named the art piece The Skull because these are the words his mother initially thought when she saw the artwork. “This creation is an eighteenth century human skull encrusted with 8.601 diamonds, weighing 1100 carats and adorned on the forehead with a 52.4 carat pink diamond”( O'Reilly and Kerrigan, 2010). The teeth are real and belong to the original skull (Jones, 2011). This controversial piece of artwork is believed to fall within the region of 12 to 15 million pounds. It has been described as the most expensive diamond-related project since the creation of the crown jewels. In addition, the innovative artist produced a net evaluation of 50 million- highest priced-artwork ever recorded by a living artist (O’Reilly and Kerrigan, 2010).
The interesting part here is that the association of Damien Hirst’s name with monetary indulgence was already well established, even before the Skull appeared.” In producing the most expensive work sold by a living artist, he broke his own record set by death of a lullaby winter-a collection of pills on shelves sold for 7.4 million in 2007” ”( O'Reilly and Kerrigan, 2010). Damien Hirst was here to stay, acclaimed as not only a man that succeeded a considerable fortune but also a daring innovator within a “rapidly burgeoning art market”. Was Damien Hirst the art market Master or someone who was just parodying the art world?
Meanwhile, this tremendous success resulted in Charles Saatchi’s purchase of a large amount of Hirst’s work. Saatchi was regarded as an educated collector. This involvement increased the prestige on Hirst’s work, automatically translating any Hirst work into a “valauable commodity”. The noise around Hirst’s name was followed by strategic artwork purchases including names such as Steve Cohen and other wealthy buyers. It was highlighted that whilst public institutions such as Tate Modern cannot afford that type of purchases, the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited Hirst work but on loan from the owner who happened to be Steve Cohen(O'Reilly and Kerrigan, 2010).
In short, all this discussion raised the concern for such practices- “why art collectors bid up the prices of controversial pieces and then act as museum curators?” The intermediary system of the art world was lost in space. Major art critics were discussing about the astronomical prices achieved by artists such as Damien Hirst that have ended up empowering financially strong buyers. What about the core of the art world- critics, curator’s and the industry’s experts that have been undermined? Adrian Searle (2005) stated that “Never has money been so powerful” and Robert Hughes (2008) characterized Hirst “a pirate” because of the strategic commercial techniques he used to create recognition and significance for his work, within a pseudo reality of “wannabe-collectors”.
On the other hand, Germaine Greer (2008) positioned Hirst as a very successful brand because in our century art equals marketing and marketing equals art. Undoubtedly, Hirst branded himself very effectively and from an artist he was transformed into a manager.
At this point, it is crucial to discuss the topic using the philosophical theory of experientialism. An experientialist’s perspective discusses artwork as a matter of aesthetic experience. In Hirst’s case, experientialism acts as the magic wand that disregards the strong critical evaluation of the art piece in monetary terms, creating a balance between the actual art and its commerce context. “The darkness is a work of art, itself. Perhaps it is the real work of art […] in two minutes the iridescent object can only register as a dream of eye sockets that are blue-green pools sunk into a shimmering spectral mask.” (O'Reilly and Kerrigan, 2010)
The Skull is the modern example of commercial artwork that raises the discussion on the financial value of any artwork resulting, many times, in the omission of the actual aesthetic experience. In fact, theory suggests that experientialism can be considered as the possible framework that will be able to explain artwork similar to Hirst’s innovations beyond financial incentives. As many philosophers discuss, there are times it is not the object but the experience that makes any aspect of consumption sensible and art indeed represents a big part of consumption”( O'Reilly and Kerrigan, 2010). On the other hand, art is not always made to make sense to the crowd and many times negative impressions are considered positive enough to increase monetary values in the modern world of successful artists/ businessmen. There are so many ways to make it visible, popular and appreciated, like Andy Warhol successfully did (Jones, 2011). Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of contemporary art. Any kind of popularity makes the world go round and art is being shaped and reshaped from different trends and opinions. This is the contemporary world. This is contemporary art, isn’t it?
To conclude, all these should make us (re)think; either being art critics, marketers or consumers, if the association among marketing and the arts should really exist or it is just another pretentious necessity of our generation. And if we talk about a real bond here, how it can be regenerated for the common good of both sides?
Jones, J. (2011). Damien Hirst's skull tasteless? That's the point | Jonathan Jones. [online] the Guardian. Available at:
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/feb/22/damien-hirst-diamond-skull [Accessed 30 Jan. 2016].
O'Reilly, D. and Kerrigan, F. (2010) Marketing the arts. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge
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