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Hirst - worse than manufactured pop

Art critic and former curator and head of galleries, Nigel Spalding, was yesterday reported as saying Damien Hirst is not an artist. Spalding coined the term 'con-art' to refer to much of contemporary conceptual art and installations. Singling out Hirst as the high-priest of self-promotion and money-grabbing, Spalding said that people will soon see that the Emperor has no clothes. 'His work' represented, Spalding contends, the sub-prime of the art market.

I like some contemporary conceptual art; it has made me think, but I've always felt Hirst to be distinctly lacking in talent. His work has never made me stop and stare - or think. It has not moved me in any way, except to wonder how many it does speak to. Spalding, of course, is not the first to proclaim Hirst as arch-blagger, although his remarks come as the critic gears up to promoting his book 'Sell all your Hirsts...' (that's not the full title, but you get the gist. Is Spalding engaging in his own spot of publicity-friendly controversy? Perhaps. He's long been described as a maverick himself in art circles. But given that Spalding has an established and hard-worked for career history in his field, including the achievement of many great things for Scotland's galleries, I have to doubt that he's doing this just to sell a book. The key phrase in the latter sentence is 'hard-worked'. Spalding hailed from a South East London council estate, winning a place to study art, and then working hard to move ahead in museums and galleries. Hirst, however, has not worked an inch for his 'art'. Instead, he has employed an army of poorly paid assistants to put dots on the mass-produced canvases, which in my mind make them no better than bric-a-brac; the real 'craftsmen' in Hirst's career history have been the abattoirs and others who have prepared the animals and put them into the tanks of formaldehyde. Nor can Hirst draw. That lack of tangible skill is not said to matter, particularly with conceptual art, which is analogous to those who can't sing but who still expect a number one, and who will get it if they have enough marketing behind them; but neither making or creating, or having failed to demonstrate any measure of tangible talent, makes Hirst a man only of ideas (and how many of those are his own?). His own ability lies only in self-promotion and giving orders to his workers.

I really am against this whole tradition of bosses getting workers to do all the work - workers making all the sacrifices - putting their own ambitions on hold because they have to pay the bills - which said boss then takes from them and declares it to be his own. And then throws the workers a few coins whilst he buys himself a mansion. In fact, it's obscene, and I hope that this is the next big con/scam that is tackled. It should have no place in the twenty-first century. We should be resalvaging the purpose and skill that is inherent in learning and trying to master a craft. I saw some of this hard-won craft and talent in last year's BP Portrait Prize, one can only guess how long was spent by the artist on each photograph, painting - yet out of about 100 exhibited, maybe one will be lucky to make it their career - despite the talent that far exceeds that of Hirst and his ilk. Some of them may even have worked for Hirst.

Koons, the American, is another. He has a team of around 300 painters in India paint his work for him. Koons places not one splodge of pigment on the canvas. Asked why he didn't paint them himself, he said it would take him tweety-years to achieve the skills of his chief painter! Has no one thought to tell him that's why his chief painter should be the celebrated one? It is exploitation, pure and simple. There are now many art collectors who insist on buying art works that have been created by the named artist. One can only hope that this increasingly becomes the norm. No, those who claim that the 'works of Hirst' and others who don't do the work themselves, are great and everyone else must be jealous, are usually those who then turn up their noses at manufactured pop and formulaic fiction. It is worse.


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