Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Damien Hirst Struck Gold on Black Monday

By Joan Collins

I couldn't help but appreciate the irony in the contrast between last week's "Black Monday" and the massive amount of money collected by Damien Hirst in his historic solo auction at Sotheby's.

On the very same day that one of the most venerable banks of America went bankrupt, axing thousands of workers in London (and God knows how many more in NY) and causing a tsunami-like wave of shock across the financial markets, a gaggle of oligarchs and billionaires shelled out over £70 million in one night.

Not that I begrudge Damien's fees (by the end of the two-day auction he had made £111 million), nor do I disagree that investing in his work is a wise move - much better to buy a derivation of Bacon than a derivative from Merrill Lynch.

Percy and I attended the glittering party at the auction house and oohed and aahed at his work, which was impressive and witty. When we saw Damien he was extremely friendly - lots of hugs and kisses - but, again, this was before the sale so I'm sure he was doing a lot of it, lest someone turn out to be a potential buyer.

He was certainly putting himself on a limb as the first artist (Picasso aside) to gamble all or nothing by selling his work without the help of a dealer.

It was crowded not only with attractive people but with an astonishing display of art. I don't think it matters one jot that Damien employs a staff of 120 to create his works - so did many of the greats, and the staggering originality and beauty is all

My particular favourite, although often derided as commercial, was his butterfly series, particularly the impressively realistic replica of the Rose Window made entirely of butterfly wings.

But it's his more controversial and satirical pieces that distinguish Damien. His "Golden Calf" and "Diamond Skull" are essentially condemnations of how overheated and mad the art market can be. Yet seeing the "Golden Calf" I marvelled about how truly beautiful a work it is, regardless of whether it has made its point convincingly, and it sold at £10.3 million.

With world markets in crisis, house prices will plummet further and even more billions will be wiped off the pensions and savings of those who can least afford it. Yet fat cats like Richard Fuld, the CEO of Lehman who earned more than $20 million plus bonuses last year, presumably can afford to be careless with other people's money.

Last Monday proves to me that in mega-rich circles, the credit crunch amounts to a slight hiccup, while the majority of people are left gasping for breath.

Even though governments and institutions keep trying to reassure us that they are looking out for our best interests, the fact is that you can only depend on yourself.

My parents taught me always to pay cash, never get into debt and never speculate - really the only financial knowledge I possess - but it's stood me in pretty good stead.



jams o donnell said...

Ach Damien Hirst has little artistict talent - except to turn mediocrity into wedges of cash.

THe biggest fools are those who shelled out millions for this crap.

Mariamariacuchita said...

Well, art is in the eye of the beholder. Most people may not be artistically educated or elite, but they generally know what they like, for better or for worse.

I have not seen great art in a long time. However, I would have loved to have been at this show.

Ducky's here said...

The "art market" is just that a market selling commodities.

Myself, I'm an essentialist and none of this crap is "art" but if it were it would still just be sold like a three pack of briefs.

"Art and Anarchy" by Edgar Wind for anyone who wants some insight into how relevance might be returned to our art institutions.

Craig Bardo said...


This market stuff has got me blogging again.

This is the best, most accurate response I've heard to this end run attempt to socialize poor investment losses and our economy http://financialmarketmeltdown.blogspot.com/2008/09/this-letter-perhaps-best-expresses-my.html

roman said...

Even though governments and institutions keep trying to reassure us that they are looking out for our best interests, the fact is that you can only depend on yourself.

Sad but true.

tom brakke said...

Here's my take on it all, written for my primary audience of investment readers:
in formaldehyde

Loved yours and look forward to seeing more of your work.

MC Fanon said...

The state of the economy is much worse than I had originally thought. The left has an incredible opportunity to expose the abuses of capital and the reckless dominion of the ruling class.

Frank Partisan said...

Jams: Art lovers aren't buying Hirst's works. In Minneapolis they had an opening with his prints (graphics of pills). It was awful.

Maria: I'd go to to the show. There would be food there.

Ducky: On Friday I'm going to an opening of Peter Max prints, with him in person there. I wonder what drug he was on, when he did his best work?

I'll check out the book you recommended.

The high prices of art, are killing smaller galleries.

CB: I changed my links to reflect your new blog.

Interesting McCain and Obama are making a unity statement.

Roman: damien Hirst's paintings are worth more, than the speculative investments. Not that Hirst's work isn't also speculative.

Siouxland: Thank you for visiting. I'll check out your blog.

Frank Partisan said...

Dave M: The left can't do much, if it's tied to supporting Obama and the Democrats. Obama is even making a statement of unity with McCain. Obama even initiated that idea.

Off the top of my head, a campaign as if there is $$ to save speculators, it could go for UHC.

jams o donnell said...

I just can't see any artistic merit in pickling a shark or slicing a cow lengthways (although the latter should help him towards a butcher's qualification!)

I get my goat that art poseurs fawn over his work when so many talented artists go unnoticed. There is more artistic merit in one of my friend Elahe Heidari's works than in the whole of Hirst's output...

Mariamariacuchita said...

Eye candy can be food for the soul sometimes...one needn't spend money to find inspiration, although I would rather give money to an artist than to a Walmart. But, free food is also cool.

Frank Partisan said...

Maria: Hirst is not the artist at the street fair. He's a multimillionaire, who creates work, with a staff of 120 people.

I'm going to a party this week for Peter Max, the famous psychedelic artist.

steven rix said...

Just a quick message to say hi to everybody. My company wants to transfer me in Singapore, so I think I'll go back to blogging instead.

Culture Vulture said...

You are SO funny!

Frank Partisan said...

Politiques: Good to hear from you again.

Culture Vulture: Welcome to this blog.

troutsky said...

You're right Ren, there are still plenty of folks lighting their Cohibas with hundred dollar bills. It's their aphrodisiac. Art is like a derivitive, once someone calls bullshit, it isn't worth the paper it's painted on.

Gert said...

You can say about Hirst what you want ("art - not art") but like so many contemporary artists he knows his onions when it comes to sheer technique: he truly masters a lot of different media, materials etc. Those who say "my kid could do that" should have their kid try and put a shark on formaldehyde (lol)...

And modern art is a trade in commodities? Art always was a commodity, has been for a very, very long time...

Frank Partisan said...

Troutsky: Correct.

Gert: Art has always been a commodity, under capitalism. It's long past the days of feudalism, when the church would summon an artist to paint the chapel, or the monarch would want a portrait. This period it's more gauche. Postmodernism makes Britney a star, not an Ella Fitzgerald.

I saw an exhibit in person of Hirst's graphics of pills. Not what great art moments are made of.

Bob said...

There's a sucker born every minute.

The real travesty is not that someone will gold plate a dead bull, preserve it, and call it art but that people think it has enough intrinsic value to spend an obscene amount of money on said bull.

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