Thursday, October 15, 2009

Damien Hirst is Getting a Drubbing

The BBC has a helpful roundup of reviews panning Hirst's foray into painting with his "No Love Lost" exhibition at the Wallace Collection. Mark Hudson at the Telegraph thinks the unanimity among critics is so total it might signal a pivotal moment in the history of art.

I haven't seen the paintings, obviously, so it's hard to say much there, but actually it hardly seems necessary when the real story is the critics. That is what everyone seems to want to talk about, concerted critical dismissal attached to so prominent a figure coming along so rarely as it does. Knife and fork, please. Mark Hudson has one remarkable quote in the article linked to above, speaking of
"...writers with an understanding of the art of all eras who have had to pander to every kind of money-inflated idiocy in order to appear relevant in our ever more uncertain cultural market place – in order, simply, to keep their jobs. But now the critical worm has turned."
What is he saying? That critics have been faking it with work that but for "money-inflated idiocy" they might have considered rubbish? Is he so sure "the critical worm has turned" that he wants to raise the curtain like that? Hudson's is the giddiest expression, but reading these reviews you do get a sense that some backed up bile is enjoying an overdue venting of the spleen.

In contrast, the paintings themselves, both in the glimpses from the press photos and as outlined in the reviews, seem too nondescript to incite this sort of response. For an artist who made his name with adjectives like "outrageous," what is remarkable is that so little of the chutzpah is on the canvas. When the reviews puff about Hirst's gall they are chiefly complaining about his venue, the Wallace Collection being one of the grandest of grand old master galleries. It's as if, outraged criticism being no longer able to go hand in hand with outrageous art, critics have retreated to guarding original genius and treating the quality of being merely "derivative" as the original sin. The ire does not fit the crime. Moreover, there is an inversion at work in a model where the artist staging absurdist installations and literally phoning in work to subordinates is taking the critically safer path than the artist working in oil on canvas himself with more or less transparent references to other artists.

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About Me

Little Rock, Arkansas
I work at a local museum, date a lovely boy, and with my free time procrastinate on things like blogs.