The “genius” Damien Hirst was exposed just like the emperor when his monstrous statue of a half-flayed pregnant woman was erected on the seafront at Ilfracombe. While the art world worshipped at Hirst’s feet, a boy of nine was asked his verdict on the “masterpiece” and declared: “It’s a bit rude, a bit weird.” Precisely.
Rude? Yes. Weird? Yes. Art? Do me a favour. Self-indulgent, ego-inflating, overrated and over-priced rubbish more like.
Why do we allow a 67ft-high bronze statue of a cut-open pregnant woman to pollute the seafront in Devon? For that matter, why do we permit a giant angel with wings outstretched to dominate the skyline south of Gateshead? Or a grotesque four-armed mermaid outside the Scottish town of Cumbernauld?
Dominated by the cult of celebrity
The difference is that Verity the pregnant lady is the creation of Damien Hirst, who may or may not know much about art but who certainly knows how to encourage rich fools to part with their money.
The Angel of the North is a work by Antony Gormley, another artist whose works command exorbitant prices.
He describes its meaning thus: “Is it possible to make a work with purpose in a time that demands doubt? I wanted to make an object that would be a focus of hope at a painful time of transition for the people of the North-east, abandoned in the gap between the industrial and the information ages.”
Considering almost £600,000 of it was lottery money that’s a perfectly reasonable doubt.
There must be similar open mouths around Cumbernauld, where £250,000 of public money has been sunk into an aluminium mermaid that stands 33ft high next to the A80.
Andy Scott’s creation is supposed to help breathe new life into the town – but as one local resident put it the money would have been better spent burning down the town centre.
Because its creator Anish Kapoor once won a Turner prize someone got the idea his pile of scrap was a good buy.
That’s the nub of the problem: art today is dominated by the culture of celebrity and is too often judged by how much it costs rather than what it achieves. I’m a great admirer of Charles Saatchi, who helped create some of Britain’s most memorable advertising campaigns (remember “Labour Isn’t Working” in the Eighties?) but I do worry that he’s got more money than sense.
If that’s art then I’m rich, because my three kids have each got a priceless creation just as good in their bedrooms.
The whole art con was exposed last week by one of America’s foremost critics Dave Hickey, who has quit the business because of its obsession with fame and fortune. Hickey says anyone who has “read a Batman comic” can make a career for themselves in art so there’s hope for me even though I can’t even draw a straight line. Actually, the fact I can’t draw a straight line probably makes me well qualified.
When BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz interviewed gallery curators he was shocked that they denigrated the work of people such as Emin and Gormley.
One said their acclaim is a result of “too much fame, too much success and too little critical sifting”.
Another called Emin’s work “empty”, admitting it was only the high price that led curators to defend her work.
We fully understand why the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers or the Adoration Of The Magi should be worth so much.
But an unmade bed? A shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde?
Cows cut in half? A face made from human blood? A cut-open pregnant woman? Most modern art wouldn’t look out of place in a freak show. It would be bad enough in a private collection but now it’s being plastered all over the countryside.
I loved the considered opinion of a puzzled Ilfracombe pensioner gazing at the bronze monstrosity towering over her seafront. “She’s a bit, well, naked for my liking.”
She’s a bit too ugly for mine.