Thursday, October 15, 2009

'No Love Lost' between Hirst and his critics

I was at an art investment conference yesterday at which one of the delegates shared an amusing and illuminating story about the artist Damien Hirst. It concerned a collector who had purchased one of Hirst's butterfly paintings for a large amount of money (it would have been between £500,000-£700,000). Some time later he was perturbed to see that several of the butterflies had fallen off the canvas on which Hirst (or more likely one of his army of assistants) had suspended them.

Clearly aware that he was in possession of something with a very limited shelf life, the collector promptly went out and found a few replacement butterflies and attached them to the spaces vacated by their predecessors before entering the work into auction. The bidding started high — £600,000 (no bids), £500,000 (no bids), 300,000, 200,000, and so on, before being knocked down for some paltry sum. It was said that Hirst bought the work, repaired it himself (or more likely got one of his army of assistants to repair it for him) and then re-sold it for somewhere rather closer to its original price.

Whether or not this story is true, it does illustrate something about the Hirst mythology — that given that he doesn't actually make the works, he is now recognized primarily as a businessman (it's no surprise that this anecdote was told by an art asset manager at an art investment conference).

But perhaps that is what Hirst will now be restricted to doing — repairing the mixed media and collage-based works for which he has become famous and which he recently declared he had finished making altogether in favour of a return to painting (see my preview of his current Wallace Collection show here).

It seems that Hirst, ever the clever reader of the market and his critics, might have expected the merciless critical deconstruction that his paintings have received from the art press. The title of his Wallace Collection show — No Love Lost — may have been a subtle signal that if the critics ravaged him, there would be no love lost between him and them.

It's easy to take a pop at the guy. He's the richest artist that ever walked the planet and the critics and commentators just can't forgive him for clearing £100 million at Sotheby's in a single auction on the very day that Lehman Brothers evaporated. It may be true that he can't paint. It raises the interesting question: "What will he do next?"

The critics get the knives out:
It couldn't get worse for Damien Hirst (Telegraph)

Are Hirst's paintings any good? No, they're not worth looking at (The Independent)

Damien Hirst's paintings are deadly dull (The Guardian)

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