The ‘entrepreneur’ – artist Damien Hirst, has a retrospective out at Tate Modern.
There are two (and only two) interesting things about Hirst. The first is the sheer quantity of work he has produced for an artist under the age of 50. It’s quite something, even if you happen to think most of his stuff is money-grabbing prank-punky frivolous tat (which most of it is, really). I’m a bit more tentative about his corpus though. Yes, most of it is life-threateningly dull, but I take the rather controversial artistic vantage point of qualitative production. If Hirst produces roughly 100 – 200 works a year (there or there abouts), one of them has to be somewhat interesting – you can’t beat randomness.
Secondly, I am also of the opinion that Hirst’s finest work was the extremely clever and downright genius double bluff that was the Sotherby’s auction in 2008; the first time a living artist had the gusto to sell a entire show’s worth of work directly through an auction rather than exhibit in the gallery, and completely bypass the traditional artist-gallery-dealer network. Hirst might be an awful artist, but he isn’t an idiot – he knew what he was doing. That stunt wasn’t about the work he was selling, it was about upstaging the churlish, crass, corpulent wealth of the London art market, and recession proof buyers in Russia and the Middle East, and showing them for what they really were (why else would he have sold a ‘golden calf’?).
Hirst is probably the only artist who could have been in the position to do it, and get away with it. He had the richest dealers in the palm of his hand for two days.