the shock of the newer
Post #310 • June 30, 2004, 8:51 AM • 53 Comments
Damien Hirst was another story. We were in London, hoping to film some of Hirst's work and perhaps a brief interview with him for The New Shock of the New. Oh no, absolutely not, came the word back. "Damien," said his gallery, "is very fragile to criticism." [Pardon me while I clean spewed tea off my screen - F.] Could this fragile aesthete really be the Hemingwoid sheep-slicer, dot-painter and all-round bad boy? I had not actually written about Hirst's work (though I consider him a much more real artist than some of the lesser geniuses of our time) but it was clear he suspected he might be treated as someone less than Michelangelo or, for that matter, Richard Serra. The last message from him was that never, no-how, under no circumstances, could we film anything of his in the current show at the Tate, In a Gadda da Vida. Why? "Conservation reasons," it said. Better to discourage anything being said about the great work than risk the utterance of dissent or doubt.
(One of the great pleasures of being a critic is targeting an overinflated reputation and unloading a few rounds of critical ammo into it.)
Styles come and go, movements briefly coalesce (or fail to, more likely), but there has been one huge and dominant reality overshadowing Anglo-Euro-American art in the past 25 years, and The Shock of the New came out too early to take account of its full effects. This is the growing and tyrannous power of the market itself, which has its ups and downs but has so hugely distorted nearly everyone's relationship with aesthetics.
This has made the critic's role more urgent. No one else in the art world is in a position to argue with the press releases. Bad art doesn't make me as angry as it used to, but puffed-up claims about art still make me reach for an icepick. Artists whose main product is their reputations rely on a line of contemporary art-think eloquently elucidated by a commenter on this site:
Instead of just sneering, why not try to engage the work and ask it the hard questions it begs for--the questions it wants to ask--and then evaluate whether it succeeds or not at the game it is playing, rather than claim the game is meaningless etc. etc. without first actually looking to see: it is possible the questions posed are real, even if the work itself fails to live up to them, even if its answers are trivial, or stupid. And if it asks questions then doesn't even attempt to answer them, then you have reason to criticize the work, but only then.
Thing is, as a believer in capital-A Art, I'm not interested in arguing on the terms of the Cult of Mammon. I can't serve them both.
UPDATE: does this look like someone who's sensitive to criticism? Oh, maybe he was just criticised.