Saturday, September 13, 2008

On a recent garage art sale

Damien Hirst's work is on sale at Sotheby's on Monday and Tuesday of next week (euphemistically called formaldehyde sculptures). He is offering his pieces for sale directly, not through a dealer, not through a gallery - (not that there is anything wrong in this approach) - just that what he is hawking might be suspect...

Here is Guardian's take on the garage sale... Edward Winkleman is also surprised...

If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst's expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate's Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his "ideas". This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.

Living sharks are among the most beautiful creatures in the world, but the idea that the American hedge fund broker Steve Cohen, out of a hypnotised form of culture-snobbery, would pay an alleged $12m for a third of a tonne of shark, far gone in decay, is so risible that it beggars the imagination. As for the implied danger, it is worth remembering that the number of people recorded as killed by sharks worldwide in 2007 was exactly one. By comparison, a housefly is a ravening murderous beast. Maybe Hirst should pickle one, and throw in a magnifying glass or two.

Hirsts' move does raise some interesting points:

- Does this mean that the gallery based representation of works is on the wane and slowly artists are going to flock to the auction based marketplace however small (eBay type gig) or large (Sotheby's)?

- Does this mean that once an artist gains recognition and acclaim, it does not make sense to have a gallerist trying to promote and sell works - rather it makes better sense to get the free market enterprise (which the auction based marketplace represents) offer artists the highest monies for the work without the middleman gallery owner pocketing a percentage?

- Some galleries start with soul and a vision - moves like this will tend to remove the soul associated with the exhibition of works in a public place. Not to mention that works sold through the auction based marketplace system will never see the light of day - it will go into the rich buyers storage unit immediately after the purchase...

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