Thursday, September 10, 2009

More Fun Than a Poke in the Eye with Some Sharp Artwork

"As an artist you’re looking for universal triggers. You want it both ways. You want it to have an immediate impact, and you want it to have deep meanings as well. I’m striving for both. But I hate it when people write things that sound like they’ve swallowed a fucking dictionary." - Damien Hirst
Sometimes I like to see if the class can get riled up (a challenge at 8am) by discussing provocative current events in the art world. Pushing buttons is a nice way to shake the bushes before assignment reviews and critiques start up next week, and it gets folks both loosened up and comfortable voicing their opinion, easy to do with polarizing topics.

Case in point being these two items, the first from New Zealand:

"Artists are outraged at a piece of art which has won a Waikato award and $15,000, the controversial piece is a pile of discarded wrapping and scraps from other entries."

Needless to say, this has pissed off many of the fellow contestants and once again made some folks in the public sphere shake their head in disbelief. Describing the piece ("Collateral" by Dane Mitchell) as "rubbish," "an embarrassment," and "a sad mockery," it seems to have elicited some heated passion or at least stimulated debate in the art community. There is some equally harsh commentary in the ensuing thread; "... pretentious psuedo-artists trying to out-pompify everyone refusing to acknowledge the apparent irony in this 'art'. You're wasting your life by admiring this" spanning both ends of the spectrum - "The visceral reactions people are having to this art only underscore its legitimacy" and "Bravo to Dane Mitchell for a true stroke of genius in exposing the art world for what it truly is. Rubbish."
If all that wasn't good enough fodder to foster some debate, the article also goes on to cite:
"In 2002 the same award was given to David Stewart, for his work 'Hyperreal Tool Box for the Reinvention of a Transglobal Empire in a Parallel Universe', which consisted of five crates of home brewed-beer."
The second instance of controversy arose from an ongoing spat (or "vicious feud") between artist Damien Hirst - no stranger to creating controversy himself - and British graffitti artist Cartrain, who previously used images of Hirst's work in his own, resulting in legal threats and Hirst taking the pieces from Cartrain's dealer.

Then while Hirst's installation "Pharmacy" (seen here above) was on display at the Tate, the teenaged Cartrain took revenge by swiping a box of pencils from the exhibit and began to put up "Wanted" style ransom posters asking for the return of his artwork or the "very rare Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series" being held hostage would be sharpened.
Problem is, just the pencils alone are valued at over $900,000 (US), ranking this art-heist as one of the all-time biggest in European history. After first arresting his 49 year-old father, the police issued a warrant for Cartrain's arrest.
What is of interest to me here is again, along with the melodrama, is the ensuing observations and opinions spawned in turn by public perception of the value assigned to Hirst's work. As evidenced by this comment thread, reaction is sharply critical from both sides:
  • "Somewhere along the line, the word "artist" came to mean "professional douchebag." Both of them. Eliciting a reaction from someone is not all there is to art."
  • "The kid is a desperate attention-seeking idiot. I hope he goes to prison for a few years."
  • "News flash: Famous artist acts like an ass."
  • "99.999% of "art" today is just salesmanship more than anything."
  • "What's really ironic here is that Hirst basically built his own career out of stunts to gain publicity."
  • "The wider gallery system also now acts as a kind of zoo to keep many of the pointless and narcissistic personalities away from the rest of us."
  • "Look what a poor excuse the unholy coalition of galleries, Museums and critics has turned art into: yet another playground of entitlement for the elite..."
  • "People are hatin' on Hirst because his art is largely total crap and created "by dictation"."
  • "...all Hirst did was validate Cartrain's mediocrity."
  • "Cartrain shows blinding arrogance by putting his hands on someone else's art and should be fined for that stupidity in itself."
  • "Hirst acted like a dick by calling the collage infringement."
  • "I have had a lot of time for him in the past, and spent plenty of time defending his work.. but as of now: fuck him."
Often I'll cut + paste a handout page of comments like these from the threads to help prime the pump for classroom discussion, and have websites pre-loaded to project up on screen so as to have background material on each artist's works. Regardless of anyone's position on the matter, it makes for some fun times in the morning. Then again. you also get the folks who really couldn't care less about this sort of stuff one way or the other, and would like to get back to drawing boxes and bowling alleys.
“Trying to understand modern art is like trying to follow the plot in a bowl of alphabet soup.” - Anon

1 comment:

  1. Please support Cartrain...

    Buy artworks at from