Jacob Willer Declares Contemporary Art Officially Uncool

Damien Hirst with his work "The physical impossibility of Death in the mind of someone living"

’Tis the season for art industry bashing. On the heels of Sarah Thornton’s public resignation from art market reporting and Dave Hickey’s critique of art criticism, artist/critic Jacob Willer proclaims that contemporary isn’t cool anymore. His essay, “How Contemporary Art Lost Its Glamour,” published in the November issue of British art and culture magazine Standpoint, offers Damien Hirst’s and Maurizio Cattelan’s critically panned retrospectives, public opprobrium towards Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit, Charles Saatchi knocking art collecting as “the sport of the Eurotrashy, Hedge-fundy, Hamptonites,” and Tracey Emins appointment as a drawing professor at the Royal Academy as evidence of contemporary art’s thinning relevance.

“Contemporary art has finally become uncool,” Willer posits, “Because of money. Money has become uncool.” As other writers have suggested, the current economically divisive, post-Occupy climate makes slick, market-centric contemporary art appear woefully out of touch and obsolete. And, as Willer puts it, “the pointlessly rich can no longer excuse their pointlessness by sponsoring the most extravagantly pointless art — they only draw attention to it.” Read the full article here, or see below for a digest of Willer’s most devastating zingers:

On mega-collector Charles Saatchi:

“Saatchi, the man who made the reputations of almost all the artists now deemed most offensive, with an adman’s snigger, tries to position himself away from the art of the 1 per cent. He sides with the masses, of course, to whom he has always sidled for his sell … In that public mood he must have noticed the significant new attitude. Contemporary art’s old allure is gone. Since the art is not cool, the advertiser is hedging. He declares himself out before the others — the only way to stay cool.”

On reformed bad girl artist Tracey Emin:

“Meanwhile, Tracey Emin has accepted the appointment of Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy. The appointment really says more about that institution than about Emin, but it tells us that Emin, too, is anxious to position herself with craft and tradition, to move away from what was fashionable. Even the artists, now in desperate disguise, are jumping from the procession and trying to join the murmuring crowd. They have heard the music, and shivered. “

On Kapoor’s Tower:

“It may well look hideous, but it is doubly hideous for what it is overtly signifying. It is just a toy version of Tatlin’s Tower, the proposed headquarters for the Comintern in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). Everyone on the academic side of the art world will recognise it, and smirk … A reverential tribute to modernist orthodoxy, in its mode of address to the art world, Kapoor’s tower harks back to times before Hirst. It begs for credibility, and sophisticated money, by appealing to sentimentality over subversive politics. Before the super-rich had found an art shiny and shallow enough to help them love their bare reflection, for near on a century they had been buying into an art which, as a polished incarnation of the revolutionary spirit, agreeably distorted their reflection.”

On Coolness-as-Institution:

“Without cool, contemporary art may be devastated. A contributor to Vice magazine, a young person’s guide to correctly subversive fashions, inadvertently showed how art is failing. “You know what? I’m sick of pretending. I went to art school, wrote a dissertation called ‘The Elevation of Art Through Commerce: An Analysis of Charles Saatchi’s Approach to the Machinery of Art Production Using Pierre Bourdieu’s Theories of Distinction’, have attended art openings at least once a month for the last five years, even fucking purchased pieces of it, but after attending the opening of the new Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, I’m finally ready to come out and say it: I just don’t think I ‘get’ art.” The critic is in earnest, but he is not wholly honest with himself. He “got” art when it was cool; he does not ‘get’ art when it is uncool. He “got” art because it was cool. And he really got it, as we can see from his dissertation title … He is “finally ready to come out and say it”, now, because this is just the moment a fashionable person would say it — the moment art lost its cool.”

Chloe Wyma

(Damien Hirst with his work, “The physical impossibility of Death in the mind of someone living.”)