Left Hand, Right Hand

British Art Journal, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Left Hand, Right Hand


We promise not to mention the Turner Prize ever again. With any luck, euthanasia ill soon be applied to what is clearly a very sick patient: the Turner Prize has been moribund for years. Finally, this time, even the national press appears to have despaired and its otherwise gallant troopers, the several art critics who have become accustomed to just reprinting the press release or repeating the jargon of a 'curator of interpretation', have decided to criticize the quality of what is on offer. This long drawnout exercise in pseudo-competition, complete with a pretence of public nominations, has done good service. Not in the cause of art, but in public relations, promoting to prominence one limited kind of art that no member of the public would voluntarily have paid real money to see, and in gaining vast publicity for the empire Tate buildings.

The appearance of the latest array has coincided with some more than usually odd goings-on within the world of art PR. The strangest was undoubtedly the Damien Hirst auction at Sotheby's, which is still being reported as having 'made' 111m [pounds sterling]. For whom? This was an operation along similar lines to the 'sale' of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull for a purported 50m [pounds sterling], one of those adaptations of existing designs that might be termed 'derivatives': and about as risky an investment as those speculative vehicles that have brought the world's financial market to its knees. In the case of the skull, it transpired that the major shareholder in the supposed purchasing partnership was none other than... Damien Hirst. Did he hand over money from left hand to right hand? Could it be that this was not what is usually understood by the term purchase?

Certainly, the 'auction' was a farce. Hirst announced that he was going to take the bold step of going to auction and cutting out his dealers. There was nothing bold about it. For who should turn out to have been a major bidder and 'buyer' but Hirst's dealer, Jay Jopling. The whole thing looks very much as though it was a ploy whereby the value of Hirst stocks was maintained at little or, conceivably, no cost to either the artist or the dealer (and there was no seller's premium to pay). …

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