Sharks ‘n’ Sh*t… (lest we forget)

Right. Where were we?
Ah, yes: “disaffected cynicism”.
(And, in case you’re just about to have your tea, a healthy dose of the scatological.)

It’s a good while since I dusted off my All-Purpose-ArtiBollox-Detector™ (with optional Nut-Crusher) and went Damien-bashing; I began to think it was tediously easy; more to the point, post the monumental display of unbridled hubris that was the Gagosian/Hirst collaboration and then those appalling new ‘paintings’, every bugger was at it.
I hate a bandwagon. So much so, I actively sought out positive reviews. Just for the change.
“Poor Damien. He’s alright, really. I’d buy him a pint.”

Then I remembered: he’s made, like, a gazillion quid from getting other sackless sods to make shite.
He can buy me a pint.

Instrumental in returning me to my senses was a quote in last week’s Guardian from the late, great Robert Hughes (yes, him again; you can’t have too many Hughes quotes):

“The publicity over the shark created the illusion that danger had somehow been confronted by Hirst, and come swimming into the gallery, gnashing its incisors. Having caught a few large sharks myself off Sydney, Montauk and elsewhere, and seen quite a few more over a lifetime of recreational fishing, I am underwhelmed by the blither and rubbish churned out by critics, publicists and other art-world denizens about Hirst’s fish and the existential risks it allegedly symbolises.
One might as well get excited about seeing a dead halibut on a slab in Harrods food hall.”

Ya see?
Degrees of separation between Hirst and experience; between Hirst and authenticity; between Hirst and the real world. What kind of deluded, lily-livered namby-pamby wuss are you, Jonathan Jones, – “No encounter with a contemporary work of art has ever thrilled me like the day I walked into the Saatchi Gallery in 1992 and saw a tiger shark’s maw lurch towards me…” (you lurched towards it, by the way) – if you sustain ‘visceral shock’ over a pimped-up fish-bowl in the admittedly life-threatening, elemental confines of a London art gallery?
Embodied ‘primal fear’ as felt when viewing Jaws from behind a cushion, and to which the only reasonable response is “Big, innit?”

So, Hirsty, in memory of Mr Hughes, consider hostilities well and truly resumed.

On Sunday, happily, I came across this review, and delicious kick to boyo’s nethers, in Charisma Robot’s Day Trips to the Void blog, which reminded me how much fun Damien-bashing is when you put your mind to it. So moved was CR by Hirst’s oeuvre, she/he spent literally minutes creating this heartfelt homage:
Bottom Boom: A Conceptual Fart:

“Bottom Boom captures a moment frozen in time, a moment of existence, an action, that can never be experienced in that quintessential way ever again. Bottom Boom is a study on ontology and the way it delineates our existence… The wonder of the body in motion meshing with time and existence, having awareness of itself and its death, the waste of lives ever moving in a cycle of creation and destruction. The ebb and flow, the yin and yang, the immorality and the morality bla bla bla bla…”

Yes. CR farted into a glass box. Or pretends she/he did. Or, more likely, got someone else to do the farting. Either way, so very ‘Hirstian’.
(Of course, I could add that this work clearly references and engages in debate with Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista (1961), but that would be talking crap, and we can’t have that.)

Serendipitously, (the Blessed Robert was surely guiding my hand by now) I then stumbled upon an ancient (2008) article from The Daily Squib:
“Arse Hole, by Damien Hirst”:

“The painting is part of the Hirst ‘Arse Series’ where he depicts himself as the contemporary ‘anal bullshit’ con-artist that he is.
“‘I aim to paint myself as limitless angular momentum in constant toilet flushing flux. My anal sphincter muscles loosen and expel hydrostatic equilibrium into the anus-sphere of existence and of course stick a dead fucking cow in there too,” Hirst writes in Arthole magazine.”

I know, I know…
Puerile, facile, really not helpful. Cheap shots, for sure, with far too much ‘arse’.
But Hirst’ll do that to you.
Anyway, I’ve spent the last fortnight in a state of Olympics-induced beatific magnanimity.
It was never going to last. 😉


Because it’s Shark Week: Ten Fun Facts About Jaws by Holditnow.

By the people, for the people: we’re all art critics now

In yesterday’s Guardian Jonathan Jones wrote percipiently about how the status/role of the art critic has changed with the advent of and access to social media: the critic can no longer dispense judgement pope-like from ‘on high’; she/he must be prepared, like the rest of us, to engage in debate and defend her/his position. Just as, with the digital age, the question as to what constitutes ‘art’ continues to become more open, so, inevitably, must the discussion.

Hausmann’s The Art Critic

This is an entirely good thing.

Just this week I was delighted by the discovery of a ‘new’ van Gogh, Still Life with Roses and Field Flowers; I was equally appalled that, on the strength of some numpty’s opinion that it was “uncharacteristically exuberant” (had she/he not read Vincent’s letters? His reactions to the Impressionists on his first trip to Paris in 1886?) it was consigned to the art world equivalent of a broom-cupboard for forty years. Admittedly, it is recent technology that has made it’s attribution possible, but this does not detract from the fact that it never pays to be totally in thrall to so-called ‘experts’.

Still Life with Roses and Field Flowers

Again last week, another ‘expert’, the writer and occasional art critic Mark Hudson, decried the ongoing attempt to uncover Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari, reasoning that it would “destroy one of the great legends of Renaissance art history”, and the ‘idea’ of the lost work would prove “more potent and inspiring than the actuality”. This is arrant, reactionary nonsense: ‘art history’, like art itself, is no longer ‘arcane’ knowledge possessed by the few and disseminated by them as and when they feel like it to a grateful audience; mysteries, in an age of freedom of information, are there to be solved, and one should not be bowing the knee to some retrograde notion of the Renaissance as somehow sacred. If that is the Battle beneath Vasari’s depressingly mediocre work, then I want to know about it; if it ‘disappoints’, so what? No-one’s perfect, not even Leonardo.

Rubens’ copy.

It has been ‘experts’, after all, who have been so sniffy about Hockney’s show at the Royal Academy, while falling over themselves to eulogise the conveniently dead Freud; it has been the public, people like you and me, who have marvelled at Hockney’s achievement, come away over-joyed, exhilarated, and kept the queues going round the block by reporting their sense of sheer pleasure (a response much under-rated by professional arty types) via Twitter, Facebook and blogs. I think Brian Sewell, who wrote a particularly arsey review of Hockney for the Evening Standard, was nevertheless on to something when he talked about  art critics “writing anxiously for each other”: the game became neither about the art, nor the artist, nor about communicating with the general public; it was about proving to one’s peers that one ‘understood’ the blatantly incomprehensible and had a fine line in the lastest abstruse jargon.

In other words, one great big circle-jerk.

Hockney iPad drawings

That’s not to say, of course, that critics are redundant; it is always worth listening to a well-informed, well considered opinion (especially from one’s doctor); the good critic will, even if we disagree with her/him, at most teach us something, at worst make us think. But the time where any view from someone in ‘authority’ can be taken as gospel is long since gone. The critic may frame the debate but, thanks to the access provided by the internet and people’s readiness to engage with it, she/he no longer has the final word.

Everything has the potential to be regarded as art, everyone can have an opinion and state it. Let’s enjoy the debate on our terms for once.

(None of the above applies to the divine Sister Wendy, who shall forever remain blameless, if only for not bowing to societal pressure and getting those teeth fixed.)


Jones’ Guardian article:

Hudson’s Telegraph article:

Sewell’s Standard review:–review-7439570.html