Damien Hirst claims he is just like Rembrand, Velasquez and Goya. That’s quite a tall claim. While it can not be considered that he is making any serious comparison of artwork, he is most definitely making a superficial reference to lifestyle and business acumen.
He identifies himself with Rembrandt as the artwork of both, commanded high prices in their life times, enjoyed displays of opulent lifestyles and expensive homes, had large art collections, and cavorted with fashionable society.
Ok, so he could also make connections with other well known artists, performers, inventors or businessmen for that matter. It would seem that his comment is no more than a superficial grab at media attention through bombastic “sacrilegious” claims. It is completely calculated to cause a stir in conservative art circles where the Old Masters take on an almost saintly aura.
His statement is calculated as much as his artwork is to procure reaction. Damien Hirst has looked at the excesses of the modern art market, and set himself the goal of being more excessive. Excess is his artform.
He has largely stated this with his diamond encrusted skull, his intent being, to make an artwork too prohibitively expensive to buy.
With several factories situated around London and some 180 drones, he churns out his luxury brand. His works are held by some of the wealthiest collectors in the world. His comment about criticisms of his business orientation was, “A lot of people believe artists should be poor, that you’re not a real artist unless you are covered in paint with holes in your jeans.”
We can then follow this next vacuous claim that he is a populist champion for the exploited artist. Why should artists not earn well from their artwork? Why should the middlemen, galleries and dealers take up to 50% of the earnings? Yes, discussions that all artists have had amongst themselves. Where this grab at attention seeking propaganda lacks any relevance is that his world, his earnings belong to that rarefied atmosphere of the celebrity commodity art market. In this world, only the label and price tag matters.
In a market where escalating prices seem to be almost normal, how can one possibly be even more outrageous? Cut out the middle man. This is precisely what he done. Sotheby’s auction house, will stage a ground breaking auction dedicated to 223 new works by the artist next week and is estimated to earn more that £65 million. None of it will go to his representative gallery, White Cube Gallery and nor will Sotheby’s earn any fees.
Will this change anything for the mere mortal artist? Not at all. The gatekeepers of this tightly controlled world, the arbitrators of fashionable contemporary art, are not about to let their empire end. While Damien may think his now out of their control, the rest are not. He sees himself as a grand revolutionary, a purveyor of enlightenment, but rather he is only but yet another symptom of the system, a victim of his own success.
His statements and actions thus far have as much meaning for other artists as Marie Anttonette’s purported comment, “Let them eat cake.”