“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” Sturgeon’s Law

hirstyOn a roll – we follow on from yesterday’s post about the theft of Damien Hirst’s £500,000 pencils.

You may recall: the reputedly richest artist in the world (pictured left, poss. net worth £200 million) is in dispute with an 17-yr-old graffitist, Cartrain, which will end up in court later today, London time. Cartrain has been arrested for stealing a packet of pencils from the room-sized installation called Pharmacy at Tate Britain. Charges being laid are £500,000 worth of theft and £10 million worth of damages.


Damien Hirst congratulates the 9/11 terrorists

Let’s also remind ourselves, Damien Hirst is famous for many things apart from wealth: sharks in formaldehyde, diamond encrusted skulls, and also this (Guardian 11 Sept 2002):

The artist Damien Hirst said last night he believed the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks “need congratulating” because they achieved “something which nobody would ever have thought possible” on an artistic level.

Hirst told BBC News Online: “The thing about 9/11 is that it’s kind of an artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually.”

Describing the image of the hijacked planes crashing into the twin towers as “visually stunning”, he added: “You’ve got to hand it to them on some level because they’ve achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America.

“So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing.”

The clarity of thought! The insight! The moral compass! The delicacy of his aesthetic perception! O what a piece of work is Damien, how noble in reason, in apprehension how like a god! (Oops, sorry, that last bit was a lift from Hamlet.)


receiptThe banality of evil contemporary art: “I sincerely believe that this art is amongst the best work that has been made in the last 15 years or so.”

Also yesterday, I linked to this article from the Guardian (June 09): “Recently acquired works by Damien Hirst and the Chapman Brothers go on show at Tate Britain.” Let’s have a look at some excerpts:


Naeem, a checkout operator at a north-London branch of Morrison’s, may not have realised it at the time, but when he was putting through groceries for a demanding customer on a Tuesday evening earlier this month, he was creating art. Yesterday, it went on display for the first time at Tate Britain.

It is, basically, a till receipt stuck to the wall – although more is revealed on closer examination – and it is among works by artists including Damien Hirst and the Chapman Brothers that the Tate believes is some of the best art from the last two decades.


Marvelous! How was this effortlessly ineffable piece of art (pictured left) conjured? Let’s see:


Monochrome Till Receipt (White) by the artist Ceal Floyer is in the first room of the show. The original 1999 receipt is in the Tate archives, acquired this year for a sum that will be disclosed in the next annual report. For this version, Tate curators went to a supermarket and followed Floyer’s instructions on what to buy. The shopping cost £70.32. [bold type added]

The show’s curator Andrew Wilson, who went on a dummy run, told the checkout operator “that we were constructing a work of art”, and to put the goods through in a certain order. One of the themes that emerges is the colour of all the goods bought – Alka Seltzer, rock salt, pickled eggs, swing bin bags – all of which are white, and can be seen as a monochromatic still life.


A white, monochromatic still-life. Genius! Alas, it is not even the actual, real, certified artwork receipt. It is only a reconstruction. But the original receipt – artwork? what do we call this? – was estimated at £30,000 three years ago.

But back to the Tate curators:

The exhibition,’ Classified’, showcases recent additions to the Tate collection. [Curator] Wilson said: “I sincerely believe that this art is amongst the best work that has been made in the last 15 years or so.”

To quote poet A D Hope: ‘Divine Cecilia, there is no more to say!’*

Our leading artists have failed us, have failed the imagination. Our (their) public servants have failed us, have failed the bullshit judgment test. Somewhere, we have mislaid soul, mistaken something else for the heart.

The poet Paul Simon put it cheerfully in his song:

… every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,
Medicine is magical and magical is art
think of the boy in the bubble
and the baby with the baboon heart


A small sad, beautiful moral

* From A D Hope’s Moschus Moschiferus, a poem (c.1960s) he wrote to the patron saint of musicians, St Cecilia. In twelve lilting stanzas Hope tells the tale of how, in the high jungles near Tibet, the Kastura deer were hunted for their musk glands. Hunters set traps and in the silence pipers played to lure the deer to their doom:

Through those vast, listening woods a tremulous skein
Of melody wavers, delicate and shrill:
Now dancing and now pensive, now a rain
Of pure, bright drops of sound and now the still

Sad wailing of lament; …

Two stanzas later:

… The little musk-deer slips into the glade
Led by an ecstacy that conquers fear

A wild enchantment lures him, step by step
Into its net of crystalline sound, until
The leaves stir overhead, the bowstrings snap
And poisoned shafts bite sharp into the kill.

Then as the victim shudders, leaps and falls,
The music soars to a delicious peak,
And on and on its silvery piping calls
Fresh spoil for the rewards the hunters seek.

A hundred thousand or so are killed each year;
Cause and effect are very simply linked:
Rich scents demand the musk, and so the deer,
Its source, must soon, they say, become extinct.

Divine Cecilia, there is no more to say!
Of all who praised the power of music, few
Knew of these things. In honour of your day
Accept this song I too have made for you.

And so it is that a divine art can be practiced to lure its captivated audience to their doom. There is no more to say …


censored1Recent posts:
The Hollywood strangle
Literature is only a genre
Reading without merit
Kay Ryan – concise, memorable

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