Marion Maneker0January 14, 2013

Blaming Damien Hirst for the Art Market

What is it about Damien Hirst that provokes persons desperate to sound and seem smart to say such utterly dumb things? The latest example comes from Stephen Marche writing for Esquire (and lifting generously from the work of Rachel Cohen.) Marche wants us to believe that the separation between Gagosian and Hirst is a watershed moment in the history of the art market because, as everyone knows, Hirst’s art has only ever been about the money paid for it.

Artists go in and out of fashion all the time, of course, and their value at auction changes accordingly. But Hirst is a different matter, because Hirst’s work was always interesting only to the extent of what people were willing to pay for it. […] The definitive quote about Damien Hirst comes from John Lanchester’s novel, Capital, my book of the year for 2012. The novel’s main character, a city banker named Roger, owns a Hirst spot painting: “Roger’s considered view of the painting, looking at it from aesthetic, art-historical, interior-design, and psychological points of view, was that it had cost forty-seven thousand pounds, plus V.A.T.”

Just so. It’s no coincidence that Hirst’s peak was in 2008, just before the economic crash. Hirst’s paintings and scultpures are the aesthetic equivalent of bad collateralized debt obligations.

That last bit (and probably all of the post) is based upon Rachel Cohen’s long essay in The Believer trying to link innovations in banking to various works of art. Cohen is a real talent but for some reason pursued an essay that is completely spurious in its construction and conclusions. Damien Hirst’s work has nothing in common with CDOs or any other product of structured finance. In one pays even cursory attention to Cohen’s reasoning, the leaps in logic and causation are painfully obvious.

Worse, there’s fundamental prejudice inscribed in her piece that undermines all of her (and Marche’s) complaints. It is the fallacy that the value of art can be measured by the value at which it changes hands.

Now, the first time a Damien Hirst is sold, the price is at a level only the greatest works of the past have achieved after being sold and resold for a century or more.

Do either of these smart people really think Damien Hirst is the only artist whose work was considered valuable in its time but valueless thereafter? Hirst has many faults but neither the financial crisis nor the currently raging art market can be blamed upon him.

The End of Art as Pure Money (Esquire)

Gold, Golden, Gilded, Glittering. (