Friday, May 4, 2012

The Disgusting Sublime

There are artists who everyone loves to hate. They seem to get an undeserved bang for their buck, garnering maximum attention for little effort which is usually performed by fleets of assistants who execute the works in question. Julian Schnabel was the nominee for most hated of the commercially successful fine artists back in the 80’s but he became a filmmaker whose successes though not as great are also reviled by those who feel that both his commercial and artistic renown is unmerited. In today’s art world Damien Hirst is the most vilified amongst the cognoscenti who sneer at the huge sums commanded, for instance, by his recent spot paintings. Who are the conspicuous consumers who pay top dollar for his work at Larry Gagosian’s international network of galleries which do for the marketing of paintings what Brown Harris Stevens was able to do when they commanded 88 million dollars for the sale of Sandy Weill’s penthouse at 15 Central Park West to Ekaternina Rybolovlev the daughter of the Russian potash billionaire? Surely Brown Harris is one provider of the excessively priced apartments on which high priced art can be shown. But wait a minute? Are we being too hasty? In a review of Hirst’s current show at the Tate, in the April 20th edition of the TLS, running under the title “The Disgusting Sublime,” Gerard Woodward brilliantly takes up Hirst’s defense. ("The Physical Impossibility of the Idea of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” was the title of Hirst’s famed l991 shark sculpture. And come to think of it, isn’t that title alone worth millions?) “In an essay in the catalogue accompanying this exhibition, Brian Dillon directs us towards Kant’s Critique of Judgement to help us deal with a particular property of the work of Damien Hirst, namely disgust,” Woodward begins. And later talking about Hirst’s sometimes horrifying palette (“corpses of thousands of flies preserved in resin,” for example) he remarks, “the ideational notion of disgust is useful as a way of thinking about the critical recepton of Hirst’s work in recent years, for it is often obscured or even contaminated by associations with a cynical art plutocracy and its excessive interest in wealth, and a perception of Hirst himself as someone tainted with such unsavoury qualities as arrogance, laddishness, exploitativeness and cruelty.” Another million dollar idea, which will undoubtedly fatten both Hirst and Larry Gogosian’s pockets, but which also makes us think. Whoever said art or life were fair?

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