Thursday, September 11, 2008
Damien Hirst was meeting and greeting his buyers at Sotheby's yesterday. Smart move. One art man told me the auction next Monday will account for 90 per cent of the turnover in next week's world art market. Only Hirst could pull off this direct to auction stunt. There have been equally popular artists before - Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Lord Leighton, Augustus John, Graham Sutherland, David Hockney - but Hirst lives in a world of hot money and hot media so the stakes are much higher. Walking round Sotheby's yesterday I was oppressively aware of the philistine power of sheer wealth. As Michael Craig-Martin said to me a while ago, the one thing you can say about the contemporary art world is that it is not Bohemian. But I was also oppressively aware of something I've noticed before - Hirst is a pre-modern artist, to be precise he is a Victorian artist. This has been evident from the beginning when his interminable variations on the theme of the memento mori quite clearly echoed those edifying pre-Raphaelite message paintings. Equally, his use of glass cases with formidably engineered frames for his sharks etc echoed the display cases in the Natural History Museum. And, finally, his decorative butterfly and spin paintings are almost absurdly Victorian-domestic - look at Paradise. At its best this nineteenth century style produces undemanding, pleasantly decorative effects; at its worst it produces the most astounding vulgarity. It's a long time since I saw anything quite as crass in a serious exhibition as Transience. This is kitsch for the rich. Hirst's genius lies in his acute sense of the market. These works make his rich patrons feel safe. Either they look simply nice or they wear their meanings on their sleeves. How can they go wrong, even at these prices? But, if you fear all this sugared gold is making you fat, go round the corner to Cork Street and the Bernard Jacobson Gallery. There you can see an an exhibition of difficult, beautiful works by William Tillyer, a real artist who couldn't enslave himself to the market if his life depended on it.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:16 am