Time to Take the Brit out of Brit Art; the Critics Complain That There Is Nothing New in Damien Hirst's Latest Show. the Problem Is Not the Work but Our Expectations of a YBA

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 23, 2003 | Go to article overview

Time to Take the Brit out of Brit Art; the Critics Complain That There Is Nothing New in Damien Hirst's Latest Show. the Problem Is Not the Work but Our Expectations of a YBA


Byline: ANDREW RENTON

WE will come to see Damien Hirst's latest show as a turning point in British Art: the moment that the YBA waistline, once lean and mean, spread too far.

Brit Art has become such a cultural phenomenon for this country that Old Labour would have nationalised it.

Part of the problem lies in the very success that put London squarely at the centre of the art world map. Hirst's show is proving hugely popular with the crowds: 3,500 crammed into the White Cube gallery last Saturday alone.

But the critics have seen it before and, hungry for something new, are threatening to burst the Brit Art bubble. He is not the only big name finding it hard to live up to his big reputation. Gary Hume, Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili, Peter Doig and the Chapman Brothers all enjoy enormous international acclaim, and are selling works for hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands of pounds. But Hoxton is beginning to exude the parochial charm of the artists' enclave in St Ives in the Fifties. We need to go global.

It's time to shape up and ship out.

The Hirst phenomenon is an industry in itself, and every move he makes involves huge investment in the form of teams of assistants and fabrication costs. On the day of the opening of his show two weeks ago, White Cube was claiming that 75 per cent of the works were already sold.

Even if that figure was not salesmanship exaggeration - only 75 per cent?

Surely the most famous living artist in the world should be selling out his show long in advance of the opening?

But the work has become too expensive. The gallery has to charge breathtaking rates, not just to make more money, but to sustain the market that already has a stake in D Hirst Inc. Half a million for a cabinet - and there are 13 lining one room alone. Put that together with another 13 cow heads in formaldehyde - officially not for sale, but for the right offer the set could be yours - and my guess is that the room would cost about [pounds sterling]10 million. (And that's before you go upstairs.) The installation has to be broken up into individual pieces because I cannot think of a single collector or museum in the world who could run to that.

I know of one collector, for example, who flew from New York, and dropped into Damien's Devon studio by helicopter a few weeks before the show, full of optimism and ready to whip out his cheque book for a nice piece. He balked at the prices for works that will not be seen as classic Hirst. Subtle developments are not enough; buyers want the icons, if they are prepared to invest in the brand.

Even Hirst's winners this season, his superb f lyencrusted black paintings, seductive and repellent at once, hark back to his work from 13 years ago.

(Strangely, they are hidden from public view at the gallery; my advice is pretend that you are a bigtime-buyer and ask to see them in the private viewing room.) The YBAs have been well branded. But the meaning that we in Britain invest in the work is different from the way it is perceived abroad. …

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