Arts Death, Life, Bling, Whatever
posted by June 5 at 18:58 PMon
Who else for today? Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.
Yesterday and today the Guardian has had a blitz of coverage on Hirst’s new exhibition, the media highlight of which is his diamond-encrusted skull for sale for 50 million pounds. Who’ll buy it? The first name the Guardian throws out is Paul Allen. My first thought was: nah, considering the conservatism of what he owns, I doubt it.
But is the skull a conservative or a progressive work? Will it be a joke on the one who buys it, or a genuine treasure? In a quick interview with one of the several Guardian writers dispatched to deal with the spectacle, Hirst says, “To me it seems gentle, quite soft. I would hope that anybody looking at it would get a bit of hope, and be uplifted. We need to line the world with beautiful things that give you hope.” What’s with the naif-speak? Sounds blank, just like Koons. But back to that.
Guardian critic Jonathan Jones today declares a totally immoderate love for the skull (he compares its stature to Picasso’s Demoiselle exactly a century ago), and even asks Britain to shell out the 50 mil to keep it within the isle’s borders.
Jones, for all his overzealousness, makes a convincing case for Hirst’s grand gesture. He sees something besides stale references to Warhol and Duchamp, something ancient. Which is why I find Hirst’s tone in the quote to be so disappointing. I’d love to believe that this object is, as Jones calls it, the “King of Death,” something high and mighty and low and dirty all at the same time, but something not funny, not a joke, not ironic, not about that sorry old little subject of art.
I wish I could be over there to see for myself. (Conversely, I haven’t had a regret about missing that other big show that a major publication’s critic has raved about in the last few days: Richard Serra’s retrospective at MoMA, oddly fawned over by Michael Kimmelman. Is it the art or the critic? Goes to show the lasting power of rhetoric.)
And what about Koons? Most of his work irritates me, and his persona certainly does. Many people see it as an update of Warhol. Who ever needed an update on the endgame that was Warhol? (Reminds me of what Alec Soth so simply uttered on his blog today about another artist, “Certainly only one photographer is allowed to bury his photographs”). And B, Koons achieves profundity simply by being confusing. This isn’t a living koan, it’s a lazy American.
But for a piece that ran Sunday, Koons told The Observer something that struck a nerve with me, having just seen the new show Sparkle Then Fade at Tacoma Art Museum:
Too verbose to be oracular, too random to be eloquent, Koons nevertheless releases the occasional pearl of sense. The real readymades he’s interested in, he says, are not the objects, but the people reflected in them. Inflatable toys, which have influenced him since the beginning of his career, ‘turn everything inside out. They’re dense on the outside, and everything that’s ethereal is on the inside. We inhale air, that’s a sign of life, and when you exhale your last breath that’s a sign of death. When an inflatable has a hole in it, it’s deadly.’
In that case, there’s more than one potentially toxic work at TAM these days (the first is Jack Daws’s bubblegum machine filled with prescription drugs), because the yellow-flower Koons inflatable in the gallery has a slow leak. It sags on its pedestal and has to be re-inflated from time to time, but it wouldn’t be right to patch the hole, because that would compromise the original object, Rock Hushka, the show’s curator, told me. The owners (the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation) are stuck between a flower and a soft place.