Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Poster of the Day | Lower Woodland Skatepark Is Go... »

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Death, Life, Bling, Whatever

posted by on June 5 at 18:58 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


hirst is sheer and utter shite.

Posted by bing | June 5, 2007 7:29 PM

It's a fucking skull with some diamonds in it. Yes, it's basically reprehensible bling, and yes, it's also trite and tacky. It looks like something out the Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's handbook. "The Skull of Modain causes 6d8 damage on all lawful good creatures within a 50 foot range. Exp. 30,000."

Posted by Jay | June 5, 2007 7:35 PM

50 million pounds, not dollars. That would make it 100 million dollars, not 50 million.

Posted by Tiffany | June 5, 2007 9:05 PM

Jen -- where's the photo of the skull?

Posted by Mark Mitchell | June 6, 2007 8:48 AM

Never mind. I Googled it. Don't really know what to make of it, though. I think diamonds are pretty. I'm a "tattoo guy" who has been using skull images for many years. And this just seems like a really pricey bauble to me. But, had it been unearthed from an ancient tomb I would have loved it, so I guess it's the context and not the object that bothers me.

Posted by Mark Mitchell | June 6, 2007 9:40 AM

As I think more about it, if it HAD been found in a tomb, it would have had some grand significance, perhaps having been made to commemorate a great warrior-king, or to put to use the spoils of a victorious looting. But now, and by Hirst, it just seems like a sad memento of our celebrity-obsessed times. I swear to God that's Paris Hilton's skull.

Posted by Kurt B. Reighley | June 6, 2007 10:55 AM

Oops. That comment is mine, not Kurt's. I am using his computer.

Posted by Mark Mitchell | June 6, 2007 10:57 AM


Posted by Bill | June 12, 2007 1:35 PM


Posted by Bill | June 12, 2007 1:35 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).