Above is an entry on Jonathan Jones Art Blog raving about the genius of Damien Hirst. It’s filled with so many idiotic comments that I can only bring myself to comment on one: “Hirst is more Picasso than Duchamp.”
Hirst has nothing whatsoever to do with Picasso. Robert Motherwell, a painter who wrote extremely perceptively about art, postulated that the end of the 20th Century would manifest as a showdown between Picasso and Duchamp. They are polar opposites. Hirst is a kind of Duchamp for Dummies, just like Johns/Rauschenberg/Warhol. The hypocrisy of making anti art in endless repetitions is transparently phony.
Duchamp at least had the integrity to make his anti-art statements and leave them at that, not feeling an urge to repeat himself, not to mention cash in. It’s the only thing that gives Duchamp’s work any substance. They have no visual interest. Duchamp himself emphasized that, explaining that he wanted to take art away from the retinal and return it to the service of the mind.
He somehow didn’t anticipate that the composition of the art world would be a refuge for the completely mindless or perhaps he did. Thus, we have various carnival barker type sideshow men as stand-ins for Duchamp. No ideas, no visual interest, endless banal repetition. All goading a gawking public into effusions of ecstasy (like Jonathan Jones) or angry denunciations (which can be read in the comments section of Jones’ blog.
Of course, the entire corpus of Duchamp’s work is about death. Death of art, death of civilization, etc. In his last piece, Etant Donnes, viewers are treated to the open vagina of a nude corpse. The corpse revisits the Black Dahlia murder victim, Elizabeth Short, whose body ended up dumped in two pieces after her having been tortured and mutilated.
Duchamp and Man Ray were both connected to the man who was the likely murderer. Steve Hodel fingers his father, George Hodel, as the murderer of Elizabeth Short. The sliced up body echoed Surrealist mutilations of the human figure, Hodel paying homage to the artists he admired and sought to emulate. The top half of Short’s corpse was arranged in the form of a Man Ray photograph.
Hirst’s moronic commissioning of serial killer paintings, pickled animals, etc. are just watered down Duchamp. But with Hirst/Emin/Koons and the countless others the content is pure P.T. Barnum. Everything Hirst has done from the beginning was PT Barnum. Duchamp wasn’t Barnum.
Duchamp’s Etant Donnes is looked at through a peephole… only one viewer at a time. Hirst’s work is directed toward a mass audience of gawkers.
Another way we can formulate Picasso v. Duchamp is Freud’s Eros vs. Thanatos. Picasso is life; Duchamp is death. As Warhol is mired in death, so is Hirst. Kuspit’s book The End of Art has the Damien Hirst ashtray on the cover. Hirst is anti-art, cynical and nihilistic like his puppetmaster Charles Saatchi. And why Saatchi chose him as a cash cow, clearly seeing his promotional nature with the show Hirst organized to promote his own work and his fellow students.
I picked this up from the comments. A quote from Jean Baudrillard, from Conspiracy of Art, that incisively cuts to the heart of what Hirst/Warhol and company represent:
These countless installations and performances are merely distortions of past forms of art history, Duchamp, the banality and nullity of Warhol. Of course, all of this mediocrity claims to transcend itself by moving art to a second, ironic level. But it is just as empty and insignificant on the second as on the first level. The passage to the aesthetic level salvages nothing; on the contrary, it is mediocrity squared. It claims to be null — “I am null! I am null! — and it truly is null.
And then there are the insider traders, the dealers, the critics, the counterfeiters of nullity, the snobs of nullity, of all those who prostitute and deceive people to give it all some importance and credit under the pretext that there is no way it could be so null, that it must be hiding something.
Contemporary art makes use of this uncertainty, of the impossibility of grounding aesthetic value judgments and speculates on the guilt of those who do not understand it or who have not realized that there is nothing to understand.
[Few] realize that they’ve been made victims of an abuse of power, that they have been denied access to the rules of the game and manipulated behind their backs. In other words, art has become involved (not only from the financial point of view of the art market, but in the very management of aesthetic values) in the general process of insider trading. Art is not alone: politics, economics, the news all benefit from the same complicity and ironic resignation from their “consumers.”