October 16th, 2009

Interesting But Boring

I've always thought Damien Hirst was an interesting but boring artist. He's interesting insofar as it takes nerve to do what he does on the scale that he does it. He's boring because the objects that come out of his studio are anonymous, unnuanced, bombastic and heartless. This is the thing with conceptual art.  It's all in the mind. The idea is what matters, and the resulting object - which in Hirst's case has almost always been executed by hired crafstmen- is really just so much lumber. I don't have to see the pickled shark or the diamond skull to have a complete idea of what they're about- which isn't the case with the work of the old timers who believed in getting their smocks dirty.

Hirst's latest coup is to take over a gallery at the Wallace Collection in London and fill it with paintings. Hirst isn't a painter. When he's produced paintings in the past he's always got assistants to do them for him. This time he's done all the work himself.  I admire the chutzpah. A guy who isn't a painter hangs a set of paintings within ball-throwing distance of paintings by real painters like Poussin. The reviews have been universally dreadful.

I sense a tipping point. I don't have a beef against conceptual art. Conceptual art is fascinating. But it's been a century now since Marcel Duchamp kicked the whole thing off and I don't think there's much mileage left in it.  For all it's dominance in recent years the conflicting- and traditional- idea that an artist is someone who is also a craftsman has never gone away. Clearly it nags at Hirst and- unless this latest exhibition is a complex, ironic joke- he seems to want to prove that he's a craftsman too. Only he isn't. The paintings at the Wallace are, by all accounts, studenty, pretentious, derivative and poorly executed.  If Hirst really wants to go up against Poussin he's going to have to go away, lock himself in his studio for years- and train.