Is Damien Hirst the most powerful person in art?
27-01-06 Adrian Searle
According to ArtReview magazine, and its latest Power 100 list, he is. It apparently based its decision on Hirst's earnings, fame and importance as an artist. But when did anyone ever believe lists like this were anything more than an attention-grabbing come-on designed to boost magazine sales?
Hirst's power, such as it is, lies in a reputation impermeable to criticism, having enough money to live and make art as he wishes, and an unaccountable ability to fill more column inches than any serious adult could sensibly want. His recent photorealist paintings have sold for reputedly enormous sums, and few museums can afford him. But what recent Hirsts would they want, anyway?
His work has looked distinctly wobbly, lost and repetitive for years. He acknowledged as much in a recent interview. All those Biblical allusions in his work have left him with a flagellant, self-confessional streak. This, like all his heavy titles and grim allusions, is just soft-soaping the old human condition con. The shallows of Andy Warhol's art were deeper than Hirst. The dark night of the soul is plumbed more succinctly in a David Shrigley cartoon. Joseph Beuys had better dress sense. Paul Thek put weirder things in boxes, Francis Bacon told funnier jokes, and Jeff Koons had a smarter team of photorealist knock-off artists working for him.
The eye-candy dot paintings walked off the walls; the gore sells in buckets. But the spin paintings were always miserable and the big bronzes are boring. Nor has his art been particularly influential, or developed much. Hirst has lived his career backwards, doing his greatest work first, saving all the repetitive stuff and the juvenilia for later. Once he was generous-spirited, inspirational and fizzing with ideas, but it's his media-savvyness that has carried him to the top spot, like one of his ping pong balls, held aloft on a jet of compressed air.
So is Hirst really the most powerful person in the international art world? No. Even with his New York gallerist, Larry Gagosian, in the No 2 spot, the real nexus of power is harder to determine. It might even reside in someone's art - something much too complicated for the ArtReview's number-crunchers to determine.
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