Con Art; No, It's Not Your Fault You Can't See the Genius in Damien Hirst's 'Work' -- There Is None. the Real Fools Are the Tate for Honouring Him with a Massive New Exhibition and the Dealers Who've Wasted Fortunes on His Worthless Junk

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Con Art; No, It's Not Your Fault You Can't See the Genius in Damien Hirst's 'Work' -- There Is None. the Real Fools Are the Tate for Honouring Him with a Massive New Exhibition and the Dealers Who've Wasted Fortunes on His Worthless Junk


Byline: Julian Spalding

HAVE you ever seen modern art on TV or been to an art gallery and felt bewildered and angry about the exhibits? Have you ever felt it must be your fault you can't understand it because you think the people running the gallery must know more about art than you do? Well, it's April 1 today, and it's time to name the real fools. And they're not you.

The first in my list are the people who run the Tate in London. They are opening a huge exhibition this week at the Tate Modern of the 'work' of Damien Hirst. I put the word work in inverted commas because he's not actually done anything.

He's had a dead shark and a sheep put in a tank of formaldehyde. He's had a cow sliced in half. He's had boxes of pills put on shelves in medicine cabinets. He's had assistants paint coloured dots on plain canvases, fling paint at spinning discs and stick tropical butterflies, higgledypiggledy, on to wet gloss surfaces.

Other people do this 'work', not Hirst himself. He is presumably too busy thinking up his 'ideas', such as they are.

This supposedly intellectual activity is called conceptual art. I call it Con Art, for short, because it cons people. Found objects aren't art. You can't tell by looking at them what the person who put them in front of you is trying to tell you because he or she hasn't altered them in any meaningful way.

Nor does the act of placing something in an art gallery, whether it's a stack of bricks, a light going on and off in an empty room, or an unmade bed, automatically make it a work of art, any more than framing a canvas with paint on automatically makes it a painting.

Art can't be just an idea or a feeling in your mind. All art is a subjective response, of course, but art has to be made. You have to be able to see the art in something.

When we look at a Rembrandt, we know we are looking at something that has been made for us to look at - and a truly wonderful thing it is. And our appreciation of Rembrandt's achievement is enhanced by the fact that we know we couldn't have made it ourselves.

What has Hirst himself made for us to look at in his shark in a tank? What has he made that merits his current status as a great artist of our times, so great that he's been awarded the exceptional honour of a mid-career retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern? He's made nothing.

A shark is interesting to look at but it's not, in any way, Hirst's creation. All the art critics - and they are my next bunch of fools - who write that Hirst's shark addresses the big issues of life and death are projecting their own thoughts on to it. It's all in their minds. So is Hirst's status as an artist.

This was how the emperor was dressed; his expensive robes were in the minds of people around him, when in reality he had nothing on. Hirst's work has no art in it. The plain truth is that he isn't an artist and his work shouldn't be in the Tate. Nor should any of the found objects that this gallery has been buying over the years, with taxpayers' money.

THEY bought a stack of bricks in 1972 by an 'artist' called Carl Andre for [pounds sterling]2,297, a princely sum in those days, about twice an annual living wage. In 2000 they bought a can of excrement 'made' by an 'artist' called Piero Manzoni, for [pounds sterling]22,300. Presumably, he thought, since he was an artist, everything he did (literally) was art.

When they're exhibited in galleries, works of art have what they are made of described on the label: oil on canvas; watercolour on paper; bronze or marble. This exhibit in the Tate is described as 'tin can with paper wrapping with unidentified contents'.

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Con Art; No, It's Not Your Fault You Can't See the Genius in Damien Hirst's 'Work' -- There Is None. the Real Fools Are the Tate for Honouring Him with a Massive New Exhibition and the Dealers Who've Wasted Fortunes on His Worthless Junk
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