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Posts Tagged ‘Damien Hirst’

Malevich on the Beach

Damien Hirst created 1347 spot paintings (and counting). Kasimir Malevich was less entrepreneurial. After his 1915 Black Circle he returned to the theme just a few times. A rare 1922 Black Circle, oil on board and 18 in. square, is currently at the El Segundo Museum of Art as part of the exhibition “Silence” (through May 4). It’s a loan from the collection of Nannette and Eric Brill, and it’s the only Malevich painting you can see in in the West.

Google, the Instant Art Critic

Critical Theory has a funny post on how Google’s auto-complete feature critiques the philosophers. I tried their gimmick with some contemporary artists. Just type an artist’s name into a search engine, followed by “is” or “is a.” The auto-complete feature will supply instant art criticism, reflecting the crowd’s latest searches. It seems to work mainly with artists over-appreciated by the news media, and that makes it all the more fun!

In fairness, Google’s auto-complete has issues with contemporary art…

… and modern art.

The crowd doesn’t even like crowd-pleasers.

So who does the cloud-crowd like?

To Infinity and Beyond

Damien Hirst says there are exactly 1347 spot paintings. For now.

The New York Times quotes Oliver Barker of Sotheby’s: “He has made no secret of the fact that the spot paintings were an infinite series.”

(Above and below, a 2012 spot painting exhibition at Gagosian Beverly Hills. More fascinating facts about the Hirst spots here.)

Art Fact: Damien Hirst

• An upcoming Damien Hirst catalog will list 1,400 spot paintings.

• Some collectors are relieved at how low that number is. It had been speculated that Hirst’s busy workshop churned out up to 7,000 spot paintings.

• The record, pre-recession price for a spot painting was $3.48 million. Guesstimating that the average spot painting is worth $1 million—in somebody’s mind—the aggregate value of all the Hirst spot paintings would be around $1.4 billion, the gross domestic product of Belize.

• OK, but the spot paintings have been produced over a 27-year period, from 1986 to the present. The average value of Hirst spot paintings produced per year comes to about $50 million. That still tops the gross domestic product of two sovereign nations, Tuvalu and Niue.

• “People often say the spot paintings are all the same, but they’re not—far from it” —dealer Harry Blain, who sells spot paintings

(Pictured, Hirst’s 1996 Chloropamide (pfs), in The Broad Art Foundation.)

MOCA Can’t Afford Hirst Skull

The Economist reports that the Damien Hirst show, opening April 4 at the Tate Modern, “was meant to travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, but it has been put on indefinite hold because the show is so expensive.”

Whether you think Hirst is where MOCA should be going or not, this report is further evidence of renewed cash-flow issues. The land art show, “Ends of the Earth,” was recently deferred seven weeks “to raise additional funds for the exhibition.”

Ironically, the Tate show includes Hirst’s For the Love of God, the diamond-encrusted skull offered for 50 million pounds—and sold to a mysterious cartel that was outed as Hirst, his accountant, and his dealer. The skull is said to critique the belief system of capitalism.

Reports The Economist, “Works such as Mr Hirst’s famous shark (ie, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” from 1991, pictured) take at least six technicians and a full seven days to install. The price of crating, shipping, installing and insuring Mr Hirst’s works exceeds MoCA’s entire annual exhibition budget of $3m—a sum donated by Eli Broad…”

Still on the MOCA schedule: James Franco.

“Paul Thek: Diver” at the Hammer

Susan Sontag dedicated two books to Paul Thek, and Andy Warhol rated him one of “The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys” for an ever-inconclusive film project. Jeez: Can anybody’s art measure up to that?

The UCLA Hammer Museum’s “Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective” is a rare chance to judge Thek’s art on its own terms. It’s rare because so much of Thek’s work isn’t in museums, and some key pieces have not survived. The show is fun, though it probably won’t convince you that Thek was anything more than a cool secondary figure in the Joe Brainard-ish mode. For many, the revelation will be that Thek was a pseudo-naif painter of teensy-tiny-pictures.

Thek is best known for his sculptures, and properly so. The show starts with a bang, namely a whole room of the “Technological Reliquaries.” Thek came to modest fame in the mid-1960s with this series of creepy wax sculptures of rotting flesh, encased in minimalist vitrines. Yes, you got that right—Damien Hirst did pretty much the same thing 30 years later, albeit with real livestock and bigger cubes. In the 1960s, Thek’s reliquaries were understood to be dead-on critiques of soulless minimalism. The Met and LACMA have recently used similar language to tout loans of Hirst taxidermy pieces from billionaire collectors.

The best of the Thek “Reliquaries” turns out to be LACMA’s Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), pictured at top. LACMA bought it in 1996 with a $25,000 grant from the Judith Rothschild Foundation. Eight years later hedge fund tycoon Steven Cohen bought Hirst’s pickled shark (The Physical Impossibility of… etc., etc., whatever) for a reported $8 to $12 million.

Missing from the Hammer exhibition (but in this past winter’s Whitney showing) is Thek’s famous meat piece in a Warhol box (above left). Thek apparently had issues with the soullessness of pop, too.

Thek is called an “artist’s artist,” which often means “you had to be there.” Thek was at any rate among the first artists to focus on performances, with the associated props being preserved as documentation. Unlike today’s MFA careerists, he wasn’t overcareful about preserving the props. Thek grew so weary of travelling with his ever-morphing “Death of a Hippie” road show that he didn’t bother to collect the wax hippie/self-effigy when it was shipped back to him in New York. It’s now lost, aside from a few fragments and photographs (above, by Peter Hujar).

In the years before Thek’s 1988 death from AIDS at the age of 54, he turned his energies to painting. The selection here is wildly uneven, though often compelling in a low-key, Florine Stettheimer kind of way. Incredibly, Thek’s late paintings are ditzier and less market-oriented than Stettheimer’s. The subjects are absurd: dinosaurs, gnomes, numbers (12, bursting into blue flame like a Sesame Street bit), the big bang, “here’s what I see outside my apartment” cityscapes, and abstractions with text.

Thek likened his late paintings to Kandinsky and Klee and other modern masters. They have something of Kandinsky’s crazy sense of color, but overall they’re too unruly to have passed at the Bauhaus. A better analogy is that type of “outsider” artist who resorts to frantically scrawled text, dreading that the image will be inadequate to say what so desperately needs to be said. In early treatises on the art of the insane, it was held that horror vacui, the fear of emptiness, was symptomatic of the truly deranged. From his very deathbed, Thek celebrated all that in a painting inscribed “Hurrah Vacuii!!”

“Surface Truths” at the Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum is doing another small, surprising show from its storerooms: “Surface Truths: Abstract Painting in the Sixties.” It’s 17 works that Norton Simon probably wouldn’t have approved of—acquired, at any rate, by the spendthrift Pasadena Museum prior to Simon’s takeover. The paintings are mostly hard-edge abstractions, large to XXXL (above, Jack Youngerman’s Red-Vermillion and Frank Stella’s 32-foot wide Damascus Gate I). The artists range from the canonical to the un-Googleable, and I guess that’s the appeal. It’s a core sample of what the most astute West Coast collectors considered to be important, in the post-painterly sixties.

One surprise is how many NY and DC color field painters the museum has. The show also reminds you how important Paris was to this generation. Youngerman and Ellsworth Kelly spent time there, as did Sam Francis (not in the show, but his Basel Mural is upstairs).

A standout is Washington/Provincetown artist Thomas Downing’s Red-1966. He became known for hand-painted “Spot” paintings, some rigorous and some more free-form. Here the colors so resemble lipstick shades that you’d swear it’s a feminist conceptual piece of the next decade or later. Downing taught Sam Gilliam, and you could be forgiven for thinking he inspired Damien Hirst—and, um, Bansky.

“Gold Hovercraft” Award for Michael Govan?

The Toronto Star has named Michael Govan the person to watch in the visual arts — not just in 2010 but throughout the upcoming decade. It’s good to hear that Canadians are taking note of the Left Coast, but you’ll need to read the whole article (by Murray Whyte) to understand why Govan may not be appending this particular honor to his résumé.

I’d keep an eye on what Michael Govan is doing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Deftly managing an omnibus institution whose collection spans natural history – it features a large-scale interpretive park of the La Brea Tar Pits – ethnographic craft, a millennium of art history, as well as contemporary practice, Govan, the former director of the devoutly contemporary Dia Center in New York, understands that the compact with an audience is simply to provide them with affecting wonder. To that end, the museum is responsible for major new works by Jeff Koons, Michael Heizer, Chris Burden, and almost too many others to count. By 2020, LACMA will be a model for all such museums – if it isn’t already.

(Just for the record, LACMA has not annexed the tar pits and Page Museum; it’s got three+ millennia of art history; the Jeff Koons Train is still hypothetical, absent a $20 million-generous patron; and Govan’s major new commissions, while impressive, are countable on one hand.)
Another fearless Whyte prediction: The pendulum will swing away from the “gruesome” Damien Hirst excess of the past decade, and then swing right back again, so that “by 2020, we should be doing stupid, elaborate things for millions of dollars once again. Probably with diamonds. And hovercrafts made of gold.”