ART-Surfing: Damien Hirst

July 18, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Posted in Art Reviews, Writings | 9 Comments
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I’ve been going on a major art-surfing frenzy these few days, checking up on my old favourites from Singapore Biennale 2006: (Singaporean) Donna Ong, Brian Gothong Tan, Amanda Heng and (Worldwide) Takashi Kuribayashi, Jane Alexander and Nuha Asad amongst others. I realised I had dismissed many artworks which, after some art-surfing and reading of background informations, made me rethink their artworks. They include Yayoi Kusama (a very controversial artist), Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Bohemian Rhapsody Project which I now regretfully admit I did not watch especially since I have never heard of the Bohemian Rhapsody until now.

The particularly haunting artworks made me confused on how to interpret them at first, and I realised how little I was exposed to contemporary art all this time. Walk-The-Talk and printed/online notes really gave me a good starting point for me to interpret each artwork.

The newly “discovered” artist I’m featuring today is Damien Hirst, a very controversial and extremely rich artist whose artworks focus primarily on death and mortality. He is very famous for artworks consisting of animals or organs, whole or precisely cut up, preserved in formaldehyde. This artwork, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) struck a very queer response from me.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991)

It was a Tiger Shark, preserved and suspended in a glass/steel box containing formaldehyde. Damien Hirst was very particular about the appearance of the shark. When the poor preservation of the shark caused it to decay, the gallery gutted the shark and stretched its skin over a fiberglass mould, but he commented, “It didn’t look as frightening … You could tell it wasn’t real. It had no weight.” It was replaced by another shark.

Surely enough, one can interpret that the artwork embodies the frightening and powerful elements of death that even surpasses and consumes the shark itself. The suspension of the shark, especially with its preserved life-like features still intact, gives an impression of sub-reality. It seems alive, yet is dead. The title would at first give one the impression of a surrealistic or abstract piece, but this is purely realistic, to the extent of using a real carcass as a “ready-made”. It may look like a biological study found in a museum, but seen as an artwork, it suddenly means an entirely different thing.

This, and many other artworks sparked off many criticisms and controversial arguments. Because The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living was sold for nearly £7 million in January 2005, people are starting to question whether it was a money statement or whether it was really art. Another criticism is about the authenticity of the artworks, such as his spot paintings. The paintings were mostly painted by his assistants, but his philosophy was that the progenitor of the idea was the artist since the conception, rather than execution, is what matters to an art.

Away from the Flock (1994)

Many people opposed his series of preserved dead animals. Norman Tebbit commenting on the Sensation exhibition, wrote “Have they gone stark raving mad? The works of the ‘artist’ are lumps of dead animals. There are thousands of young artists who didn’t get a look in, presumably because their work was too attractive to sane people. Modern art experts never learn.”

The works appear gruesome, crazy and sick even, but it could be because of this very radical factor that drew the attentions of art critics and collectors alike. Personally, I feel very mixed about his artworks, especially the more controversial ones. As much as I appreciate the radical concept, I do not really see the reason behind the outrageous price tag. Also, I am slightly biased towards artworks with gothic, dead or morbid subject matters and concepts. I do not feel very comfortable when I start thinking of myself in the animals’ shoes, but do you think this is what Damien Hirst wanted his viewers to respond like?

So, do you think this is Art or Rip-Off? Please do comment. (:

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  1. I like Damien Hirst’s animals-in-tanks stuff, and don’t really have a problem with the idea of a dead animal as a “ready made.” I tend to like morbid artwork, especially art like this which makes people genuinely uncomfortable. However, I’m not convinced that his work is so groundbreaking that it deserves the surrounding controversy. It’s interesting, it’s worth looking at, but it’s also — at this point — severely overhyped. Also, Hirst has continued to present other stuff-in-tanks art pieces, many of which are less interesting, almost stale.

    As for the price tag of £7 million — I don’t think most art pricing makes much sense. It’s an attempt to put a price tag on an experience (the interaction between viewer and art piece) and the fame of the artist (the “art star” hierarchy is in constant flux!) — both somewhat unquantifiable things. A high price tag is supposed to suggest that the experience is worth that much money, but really it just means that people want to believe that they are investing in something worthwhile and in good taste, and a high price tag indicates that. It can also be used to secure the fame of the artist — after all, once £7 million have been spent, the buyer (or buyers) of the expensive artworks have a direct stake in keeping the artist they bought from famous so that the worth of the artwork increases. (Of course, that’s not the case if they bought it for pure pleasure, but it’s a rare person who has £7 million to spend on art for pleasure.) The price tag of £7 million also reinforces the artist’s fame — he must be really famous and important if someone bought the piece for that much!

  2. Also, I’d be curious to read your thoughts on some of the other artists you mentioned.

  3. Thanks for voicing your opinions and giving great insights to this art debate! I might showcase another artist as mentioned soon, do check back. I want to write a bit about some controversial artists and their artworks, as well as some of my favourites. Thanks for visiting again! 🙂

  4. Sounds exciting! I’ve added “the Featured” to my RSS feed!

  5. Thanks! I just got reminded to tidy up my pages (finally!) and I’ve got some of the links updated now. I’ll be posting an assignment (art descriptive) from school on the blog tomorrow.

  6. Hirst’s artworks are famous mainly for their controversys- although these may not seem as drastic as other artists in the past such as the reference above to Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades,’ Hirst nudges a boundary whereby we are made to concider ‘What is art?’ and ‘What is its purpose?’ Whether this makes him a sucessful artist or not is of personal opinion.
    Past artworks have indeed been sold for more than his, however one may argue that these images are the works of great masters thereby showing great skill and talent- what talent do Hirsts show? Then again, when has contemporary art been about talent? Today, art is about pushing the boundaries. The problem with this is however, that the audience becomes so used to viewing such artworks that the shock value decreases. One cannot continue to be shocked by art. This means that contemporary artists are in competition to create the most ‘shocking’ pieces therefore reengaging their audience. Hirst’s price tags are indeed one of the things that have helped boost his fame and increase the ‘shock’- his artworks must have some impact on modern society or else his works would not be sold for so much. Whether this statement is true or not is another matter of opinion; others would argue that his works were sold for so much only because his name is famous. But then, has this fame not come as a result of the controversial nature of his material?

    “I just wanted to find out where the boundaries were. I’ve found out there aren’t any. I wanted to be stopped but no one will stop me.”
    > Damien Hirst

  7. […] *Click to see their take on the Damien Hirst controversy! […]

  8. i am outraged by Hirst’s use of media, it’s bad enough humans think they have the right to make animal’s lives hell then murder them for meat and test their stupid cosmetics and pharmaceutical products on them when there are clearly cheaper, humane and cruelty free methods to be used! and then there’s the clothing industry (leather and fur) you cannot own another creatures life therefore cannot take it way! animals don’t have a choice whether they eat each other or not, it’s in their instinct, but humans do! we are the only creatures who can inflict pain on another creature and know that we’re doing it! i find hirst’s work incredibly degrading to our animal counterparts (haven’t they suffered enough at the hands of humans?)what gives him the right to murder these poor creatures then parade it as art and make millions of dollars from it? could he be any more disrespectful of these creatures’s lives? no! so much for justice! if we really are the most superior creatures on the planet then why don’t we act it? as far as i know, selfish ignorance does not classify as superiority! whatever happened to the principles of Gandhi? equality of all creatures? ring any bells? just over 50 years and already the world seems to have forgotten! i have been vegetarian my whole life, now i may be only 16 but that’s still approximately 1600 animals saved from torture and murder! now imagine if the rest of the world could join in, how many billions of animals would be saved from certain death and allowed to live natural happy lives! part of animal liberation is giving them the respect they deserve, and storing their dead bodies in glass containers for the world to see and making money from it all for the sake of ‘art’ is certainly not respect! it’s disgusting! now don’t go thinking i’m an art hater1 i love art, it’s a major part of my life! but so is the safety and happiness of all creatures on this planet! if it were humans being displayed in those tanks it would be considered a hideous crime! Hirst would be jailed for life for murder! if it were human meat on your burger, you would be guilty of murder too! so next time you eat ham or chicken or steak or whatever, think about the animal that lived it’s brief, painful, torturous life on a factory farm in a tiny cage, unable to move, only to be slaughtered to go on your sandwich, and if you still feel no remorse at least be grateful for their immense sacrifice: their life and livelihood. and next time you use a product that was tested on animals, think about the poor little kittens, puppies, rabbits, etc. that went through countless hours of needless torture for it. so once again, damien hirst deserves $0 of the millions he made from these epitomes of cruelty and disregard for life, i wish i could say that he’ll get what’s coming to him but the sad reality is that he probably won’t, and neither will all the people of the world who thoughtlessly endorse and support all kinds of unimaginable cruelty to our extremely unfortunate little animal friends. just because they can’t speak like us, it doesn’t mean they can’t feel pain like us.

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