AT LAST, THE REAL SHARK IS EXPOSED; as Prices for Damien Hirst's Works Plummet, Pity the Credulous Saps Who Spent Fortunes on His Tosh, Says RUTH DUDLEY EDWARDS

Article excerpt

Byline: says RUTH DUDLEY EDWARDS

FINALLY! The market price for Damien Hirst's art is falling and some of his work is being withdrawn unsold from auctions.

While paintings by some of the 20thcentury's great artists such as Picasso and Matisse are still increasing in value despite the financial collapse, Hirst's prices are down by 30 per cent since their 2008 peak and one in three of his pieces has failed to sell at all.

Not everyone recognises that the artist emperor is naked, but in the art world there's a growing unease that his clothes might be looking a bit threadbare.

Hedge-fund multi-millionaires who bought works by Hirst -- whether they were his trademark spot paintings consisting of symmetrically placed rows of dots, or the medicine cabinet installations that he passed off as art -- now wonder if they mightn't have been better off with a picture they actually liked.

In decades to come, people will look back and wonder why, in fashionable circles at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, rubbish such as this was displayed as art.

How, they will ask, could educated people promote and buy this kind of stuff? How could the art schools tell students not to bother learning to draw or paint? How could our museums have consigned great works to storage so as to make space for what later generations will find a bad joke?

Above all, they might ask why Sir Nicholas Serota, the most influential museum director of his age -- educated in an exclusive public school, Cambridge University and the Courtauld Institute -- used his power as head of the Tate galleries to promote talentless selfpublicists and to encourage the proliferation of the ugly and the pointless.

Nonsensical

Serota's MA thesis was on J.M.W. Turner, an innovative painter of genius. Yet from 1990, under his chairmanship, the Turner Prize that was named after J.M.W and is based at the Tate, has been awarded regularly to exhibits that are at best pathetic.

Who in the future will see the point of Gillian Wearing's 60-minute video of immobile actors dressed in police uniforms, which won the Turner Prizer in 1997, or Martin Creed's winning offering in 2001 -- an empty room with lights going on and off?

I've tried to unravel some of these mysteries in my new crime novel, in which I ridicule that whole nonsensical art world. Central to the novel, much of which is based on fact, is the astonishing story of how Hirst -- a salesman with no artistic ability -- made more than [pounds sterling]300million from the 'art' he has sold.

With just an 'E' in his Art A-level, Hirst was delighted to be admitted to an art school that did not seem to rate skill -- his tutor at Goldsmiths College, Michael Craig-Martin, was a 'minimalist conceptualist' whose most notorious work is a half-full glass of water entitled An Oak Tree.

Hirst, who had a placement at a mortuary while a student, decided to make death his unique selling point. Now, many great artists have painted the dead and the dying, but Hirst's approach was more that of a butcher.

He wowed the art dealer and collector Charles Saatchi (now husband of Nigella Lawson) with an exhibit involving maggots and flies feeding off the head of a dead cow.

Saatchi offered Hirst a [pounds sterling]50,000 commission to do whatever he liked and the result was the famous shark in formaldehyde in a giant glass cabinet, which he called The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living -- a pretentious title that impressed the gullible.

There was a setback for Saatchi when a fin fell off, the liquid went murky and the shark turned green and wrinkled. But his curators skinned it, got rid of the decomposing body and stretched the skin over a fibreglass mould and it was sold to an American collector for around $12 million.

Hirst followed up the shark by having a dead cow and calf split in two and exhibited in separate glass containers. …