An Open Letter to Damien Hirst
Dear Damien Hirst
Could you please start an advertising agency?
Art has such a fundamental role in defining how people interpret society, in establishing norms, in tearing down idols and reinforcing status quos, an Ad agency wouldn’t even be something new. at the very moment when the idea of artist as lone genius was invented, the renaissance master was the head, the Creative Director, of great studios working on epic commissions – briefs – for their key clients. Think about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. ‘So Mike, could you throw something together that reinforces the power of the Papacy against internal threats within the priesthood and Vatican, that glorifies God while terrifying the lay populace, and delivers verifiable ROI in the collection plates.’
More chillingly of course could be the Neo-Classical modernist architecture of Otto March’s Berlin Olympiastadion, or the films of Leni Riefehnstahl, or the sculpture of Arno Brecker, which embodied the classical yet timeless, powerful and pure ethos that the Third Reich was trying to spread. So much art is created to an agenda. Jumping back to the renaissance we can see it even in some of the more humble Florentine family portraits where contracts were drawn up to specify the exact amount of gld to be used and how much of which grades of blue were to be used in which areas and also what the purpose of the painting was- its audience and its use.
Why you, Mr. Hirst? Because better than any current artist, you understand this, and you use this. Many ‘get it’, but at the same time cling to the Vasarian myth around their creations. Your own factory set-up picks up from Warhol’s one good idea, playing with the nature of creation and celebrity, and crafts a far more fascinating, nuanced argument. You use your own brand, what people will pay for what they believe is created by you, at least conceptually. You elevate objects created by your army of assistants to high art from near-commodity, through the personal mythos in which you wrap them. It’s Warhol spliced with the renaissance for a post-Thatcher/Reagan world.
And just as the unipolar moment of the 90s and 00s begins to unravel, just as people start to question the value of things which you had been undermining with the sheer amount that you had people pay for you own work, as you took the money that through this strange personality cult you had created, as you managed to defy economics increasing the price and the value, giving an impression of scarcity as you flooded the market and washed away the very foundations that supported the fallacy, you sold out. And I don’t meant that in a bad way, I mean that in such a prescient fashion you cashed out the chips from that table, and sold the lot. New work at an auction. On the day that Lehman bros crashed. Now I don’t think you’re good enough to have got that down to the day, but that is a poetic piece of timing on your part that underlines how in touch you were with what was happening.
So you were quoted as saying you wanted to move to something more introspective. Why not apply your natural talent as an Executive Creative Director to advertising. People give you large cheques for you to tell them what to do to sell their brands. You want something a little more grown up, quieter. It’s so brilliantly subversive and would be yet another twist in the game of slight of hand that you have been playing with the art world, value and the market. You go from false prophet to Shamen.
Its genius, and For the Love of God, let me know where to send my CV….