Tag Archives: damien hirst

Learning from Robert Hughes

Whatever else one might say about the durable, persistently combative art critic Robert Hughes, he certainly doesn’t need a blogger of unimpeachable, blue-chip obscurity to stand up for him. He really can fight his own fights by now. I do realise that. But, having just read a very silly article by Janet Street-Porter in today’s Independent in which she attacks Hughes for his recent dismissal of Damien Hirst, don’t think for a moment I’m going to let this realisation stop me from standing up, however unnecessarily, for Robert Hughes, a critic from whom I’ve learned perhaps more than any other.

Acccording to Ms Street-Porter, Hughes’ decision to comment on Hirst is purely a way of marketing his own forthcoming television programme, The Mona Lisa Curse. This, clearly, is a bad thing. (Did I mention that Ms Street-Porter’s seminal Life’s Too F***ing Short: A guide to getting what YOU want out of out of LIFE without wasting time, effort or money, is now out in paperback? And before you start, that typography is hers, not mine, starred-out swear-word included.)

Now, some might argue that, as a critic who can be trusted to produce a direct and pungent comment on pretty much anything, Hughes would, in the general scheme of things, both have been asked his view regarding an art-world event already gaining quite a lot of coverage even without his encouragement, and then to have denounced Hirst along the lines he eventually did. Hughes’ views on Hirst are well known, but perhaps marginally less familar than the journalistic convention whereby any truly edgy, transgressive piece of contemporary art must be ritually annointed with a smear of critical obloquy before taking its place in the canon or, for all I know, the auction room floor at Sotheby’s. For heaven’s sake, Hughes was just doing his job. The ‘crash! bang! pow!’ school of arts coverage doesn’t just write itself, you know.

As it turns out, however, being an art critic with the temerity to criticise art is the least of Hughes’ problems.

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The Emperor’s New Vitrine: Damien Hirst at Sotheby’s

The potency of Damien Hirst’s achievement still, after all these years, retains the capacity to astonish.

For instance, how is it that, a cultural lifetime now separating us from the days of Freeze (1988), the Turner Prize (1995) and Sensation (1997) — relationships with Saatchi, Gagosian and Jopling consumated and compromised apparently at will — BritArt’s 43-year old enfant terrible is still able, somehow, not only to force the publicity department at Sotheby’s to churn out the most spectacular nonsense about ‘the leading artist of his generation’ and his ‘ambitious, exquisite, incredibly powerful’ work, but to press-gang dozens of mainstream journalists into the ranks of his PR division?

For we have been told, repeatedly and insistently over recent weeks, in the news stories and profiles and television news packages laid out in loving tribute at the artist’s feet, that Hirst’s decision to unload two years’ worth of his assistants’ work behind the podium at Sotheby’s, rather than through a gallery, was ‘groundbreaking’, a ‘gamble’, even — watch as Team Hirst reaches for an adjective that correlates with our current austere and moralising mood — ‘brave’.

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