When it’s not actually art at all, according to Julian Spalding, the head of some of Britain’s top public galleries. He reckons the bubble will soon burst for zillionaire Damien Hirst and other “con artists” – that’s “conceptual artists”, the art of ideas wherein you think of something and pay someone else to create it for you. Spalding likens this art bubble to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It will crash, he says, as soon as collectors realise how “seriously worthless” conceptual art is.
This is on the eve of the Tate’s massive Hirst exhibition, about which he says, “The emperor has nothing on. When the penny drops that these are not art, it’s all going to collapse. Hirst should not be in the Tate. He’s not an artist. What separates Michelangelo from Hirst is that Michelangelo was an artist and Hirst isn’t.”
I have no problem with art of ideas, but I’ve always disliked the sheer effrontery of Hirst, who has never made any bones about being in it for the cash. A few years ago, real artist Graham Humphries (of entries passim) was hired by a New York conceptual artist to take a frame of film and blow it up into a gigantic canvas, which said NY artist then labelled as his own. So although everything that made the art work was done by Graham, his name was hidden in exchange for money and the artist was feted for having the idea. But if he’d picked a different artist, the work would have looked different.
Having ideas is part of being sentient. It doesn’t make you an artist. When a taxi driver tells me he’s got a great idea for a book (which happens frequently, London cabbies being a garrulous lot) that’s exactly what it is, an idea for a book, and that’s all it will remain until he writes it. Unless he commissions someone with the talent to write it.
As for the Hirst exhibition, well, there’s be plenty to see, just nothing at all to think about.