Australian critic Andrew Frost hits the nail on the head in his perceptive essay, not about Damien Hirst, but about the fixation and frustration so many have with Hirst’s success. For Frost, many who attack Hirst have a thoughtless bias and others who ought to find value in Hirst’s example simply succumb to envy:
What is so disturbing about all this is the way Hirst really has come to mean “something” – which is that if you hate contemporary art or dislike attempts to upset the cosy financial arrangements of the art world, well, line up – Damien Hirst is your boy.
He serves as an emblem for those who want to commune in their shared outrage and moral superiority while declaiming unfounded and unprovable accusations of plagiarism and dubious financial dealings. What Hirst makes is nothing more, or less, than art. That it is valued by some and detested by others is simply proof that works of art are contested objects whose meaning and monetary value rise and fall on the tides of public taste. What is forgotten is that the showbiz surrounding Hirst’s career is a distraction from what he has set out to do, namely, to address the subject of death through art. His greatest work is the title to his notorious shark in formaldehyde – The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. The banality of his dot paintings, his obsession with medical imagery, his hubristic will to place himself in the pantheon of great artists is an art project that is yet to run its course.
Hirst’s true value is yet to be determined. And his greatest legacy is the incomprehension such a long-view project creates in the minds of people lost in the hype.
Hirst Much More than a Pricey Dead Shark (Sydney Morning Herald)