Everyone Wants to Tell You What the Hirst Auction Means; But One Historian Actually Knows
From the Times of London‘s follow up story on the Hirst auction:
Richard Shone, editor of the fine art magazine Burlington, said he thought that the Beautiful Inside My Head Forever sale would ultimately prove an “entertaining distraction from the real business rather than a structural shift in the art market”.
The real business might be about to stall. Even with an influx of fresh collectors many lots at the Hirst sale were contested between only two or three bidders, evidence of a slowdown. Charles Dupplin, an art expert at the specialist insurer Hiscox, said: “A year or so ago you had frenzied bidding for lots. Now there’s a smaller number of bidders because there isn’t the same degree of depth to the market.”
Given the sheer volume of work by Hirst on the market in that one sale–and the sell-through of the work–it would be hard to take seriously the idea that one would have expected more than two or three bidders on a lot. There may be less depth to the art market but the Hirst sale should not be used as evidence of it.
From Matthew Collings follow up in the Daily Telegraph:
When Rothko found himself face-to-face with Andy Warhol in the street one day in the Sixties, he had to shudder and turn away. It’s a great historical encounter, the door closing on profundity and opening on shallowness. But is that reading right?
Of course, Hirst is nothing like Rothko; he’s a clown not an existentialist. On the other hand, while Rothko is certainly a great artist he wasn’t above pretentiousness.
And, conversely, Warhol had depth in his experimental approach. He was a hustler, but he had a great eye, too, and a spirit of experimental creativity. He had new things to say about emotion and meaning.
Hirst might have been a bit genuinely Warholian at one time, icy and accurate, but he’s all generalised tacky sentimentalism now. His spin paintings were always crass – now everything is. You can’t understand how anyone could take them seriously.
Damien Hirst makes £95m in Sotheby’s sale, despite global slump (Times of London)
Damien Hirst: Business as Usual (Daily Telegraph)
A quote from Scott Reyburn’s coverage of the Hirst auction:
“The financial markets are at an all-time low and the art market is at an all-time high — art has become a polar opposite,” said London-based agent Tania Buckrell Pos, who paid a record 40.9 million pounds for Monet’s 1919 “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” at an auction in June. “This sale will have a truly profound effect.”
For a moment, let’s set aside Ms. Pos’s grasp of the financial markets–if she thinks the Dow at 10,917 is an all-time low she’s going to be in for a shock in a few weeks. What effect the Hirst sale will have on the art market is hard to discern at the moment. Few artists will be able to–or want to follow Hirst in the labor- and publicity-intensive endeavor of holding an auction like this one. Moreover, the success of the Hirst auction cannot be used as a measure of the overall art market–in either direction.
Nonetheless, Carol Jacobi’s excellent piece in The Guardian sheds far more light on the meaning of the Hirst auction than any of the direct commentary. She describes the novel sale of William Holman Hunt’s The Finding of the Saviour (picutred above), the most expensive work of art in the mid-19th century. But first Holman Hunt had to cut out the Royal Academy of Art:
The Royal Academy exhibition had a nearly exclusive role as the pre-eminent marketing forum and the Academicians vetted pictures according to conventional ideas of artistic “worth” (their cut, incidentally, was 30%). The Finding of the Saviour, the result of six years’ toil, two in Jerusalem, never appeared before the selection committee. A sideways glance at the phenomenal success of the new printing media and a chat with Charles Dickens prompted Holman Hunt to turn his back on the values of the old guard and appeal directly to those of the world, a decision not unlike that of the hero of his picture.
It was a huge gamble – Holman Hunt had not exhibited a major painting since his departure for the east – but the world responded. Gambart showed the picture in solitary splendour to hundreds of thousands (for a shilling a ticket) in his German Gallery and then on tour from Bristol to Belfast. Fame and funds accrued through reproduction. Exploiting the new technologies of print, the picture multiplied into thousands of replicas sold across the globe. Other dealers were in the game; Agnews out-bid Gambart at £20,000 for Holman Hunt’s next major production, The Shadow of Death.
Art mania made many celebrated millionaires, but the money is not the point. The new system provided artists with the opportunity to set out their own principles. Holman Hunt’s hyper real surfaces are only the first of the dizzying diversification of styles, mediated by dealers, that permits taxidermy to meet design in the latest Hirst show, currently continuing to exceed all expectations at Sotheby’s today. The auction house is simply taking over the process. We’ve established what kind of art it is, as the old joke goes, now we’re just quibbling about the price.
William Holman Hunt: The Hirst of His Time (The Guardian)