Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Damien Hirst

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

June 22, 2012

I’ve been back from Europe just over a week, but life’s intervening challenges have made it seem like three. Or maybe I was never there. Perhaps I just dreamed it. Regardless, I will share my hazy memories.

Ranting, as I have recently about museum buildings that are more about architectural hubris than art, it was a pleasure to revisit the Beaubourg for the Richter retrospective and see his work installed in an airy, non-linear context that included natural light and breathtaking views of Paris. See? It can be done. Ironically, one of the architects for the museum, which was built in 1977, was Renzo Piano, who's also responsible for the new, architect-centric Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago. But at least, earlier in his career, Piano proved that artwork and architectural statement can happily coexist.

Gerhard Richter at the Centre Pompidou

Also I did go back to the Tate Modern to revisit the Oskar Fischinger installation and, gritting my teeth, walk through the Damien Hirstretrospective. I needn’t have gritted, as the exhibition was so overwhelmingly inconsequential, I couldn’t even get properly annoyed. The ride down in the escalator was terrific, though, as was the cream tea in the café.

The ecstatic ride from Damien Hirst to cream tea.

February 5, 2012

Out, damned spot! – Lady Macbeth

I was walking along 24th Street in the bitter wind, wondering if it was necessary to write any more about Damien Hirst’s blasted spots, and if I really needed to see even one of the shows. But there I was at Gagosian’s door, and it seemed silly not to go in, so I did and….a terrible thing happened. Are you ready? I’m about to admit something that could ruin my credibility forever: I liked them. Okay, to be completely candid, I didn’t just like them, I loved them. Especially the humungous gallery with the big, big spots and the smaller room with the paintings where the spots are formed into vibrating circles. The color, movement, and exuberance reminded me of Matisse and made me want to dance (by now you’re wondering, what is she taking, and where can I get some?). It was such a relief to have an experience of art that wasn’t complicated by a lot of tacked-on personal or intellectual bullshit, but was simply happy. Especially since I’d just come from the Bill Jensen painting show at Cheim & Read, which was over-the-top depressing. The mantra in the art world seems to be “if you can’t make it good, make it grim.” And I thought how, in the current context, the most radical thing an artist can do is create art that causes to people feel good, that makes them, as Tolstoy said, “love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.“ The art world seems to equate happy with sappy. And there’s a reason for this – happy art is extremely hard to make, which is why hardly anyone even attempts it. But here it was, in the Gagosian gallery of all places, suddenly transformed into  a joyous, celebratory oasis in the middle of cold, heartless Chelsea.

The next day I visited the Madison Avenue permutation. To get there I had to walk past a shop selling Hirst "spot" effluvia, whose giant windows looking onto the street revealed a lone, rather dazed-looking customer. It reminded me of those stores that used to be ubiquitous on Madison and in SoHo (do they still exist?) that specialized in knock-off Dali, Chagall, Miro, and Picasso prints. And upstairs, well, it was a total bore. I trudged from room to room and floor to floor, marveling at the ridiculousness of the over-abundance of guards, until I realized that this was one of those situations that could cause someone not to want to steal the things, God knows, but I could see how, in that compressed, airless environment with all that repetition, a person—maybe even me—could go berserk and act out. Happily, I was able to contain myself. Back on the street the chilly breeze was refreshing, and I walked toward the subway thinking, what a load of crap! I hate those fuckin’ spots!

December 15, 2011

By now everyone knows that TIME’s Person of the Year for 2011 is “The Protester” and that Shepard Fairey created the cover. Those who’ve followed this blog for a while know that I worked as a consultant for TIME on the covers for over 20 years, and introduced Fairey to TIME in 2007, when he created an image of Putin that ran on the inside (see post here).  While the Person of the Year, along with the magazine itself, no longer has much cachet, I’m still glad TIME made a good call (over, say, Kate Middleton for getting married or Steve Jobs for dying) as it represents formal recognition that this is a massive, worldwide movement—unlike the New York Times, which is still waiting for Occupy to go away so no one will notice that they haven’t been covering it.

I admire Shepard Fairey and feel his success is deserved; I have absolutely no patience with the kneejerk reaction that commercial success = sellout (Coldplay remains a favorite, and I’m glad Radiohead left their major label so they, too, don’t have to be a guilty pleasure). However, if I still worked for TIME, I wouldn’t have recommended Fairey for this cover simply because the protests represent the new and unknown, where his now-ubiquitous style is associated with the known, the past, and is simply too sleek and realized (again, nothing wrong with that per se) to represent the nascent, unformed and gritty surge that is this movement. If they’d asked, I would have looked for the street artist who is now what Fairey was in 2007. It's no one I could name off the top of my head. Because a TIME cover has very specific requirements, that would require the research that was once my job. I might, however, start here:

Although it’s had the Internet on fire for weeks and was a headline today in Britain’s Guardian, another event the New York Times (along with the rest of the mainstream media) hasn’t covered is the hasty passing—ironically on 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights—of the latest iteration of the National Defense Authorization Act, which many feel compromises our most basic American rights to due process. But you can learn about it on the Huffington Post, and if you need a laugh to mitigate the fright, on The Daily Show.

Meanwhile, in the art world, I received a press release today announcing that Gagosian will be showing ALL of Damien Hirst’s dot paintings (they call them “spot” paintings) in ALL of the eleven Gagosian Galleries throughout the world—Paris, Athens, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Rome and New York. Now there’s an event to stay home for. My opinion as a critic is, if you’ve seen one dot painting, you’ve seen them all. You can quote me.

Banksy's take on Hirst's dot paintings.