The False Narrative of Damien Hirst’s Rise and Fall

The rise and fall of Damien Hirst is an oft-told tale of hubris and nemesis. An art-world superstar in the nineteen-nineties and early two-thousands, Hirst made white-hot works—the most infamous of which involved animals immersed in formaldehyde—whose prices only ever went up. He got rich, his galleries got rich, his collectors got rich, everybody was happy. But, then, in 2008, he got a bit too cocky when he auctioned off two hundred million dollars’ worth of art, fresh from his studio, at Sotheby’s, bypassing dealers entirely. That auction marked the end of Hirst as an art-market darling: his auction volumes and prices dropped, and bitter collectors who had spent millions on his art were left with work worth much less than what they had paid for it.

These days, though, those collectors don’t seem to be so bitter after all. Hirst says that sales from his latest show, in Venice, reached a jaw-dropping three hundred and thirty million dollars as of early November. Even accounting for inflation, that’s substantially more than the two hundred million dollars he racked up at the Sotheby’s auction in 2008. Maybe that day didn’t mark the top of the Hirst market after all.

The State of Cool Britannia: Art Market in Review

When in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Young British Artists announced themselves in an alcohol-fueled cacophony of controversy it looked as though the British art scene would never be the same again.

Here was a media-savvy group untrammeled by artistic or behavioral politeness. Shock and outrage were a key part of their modus operandi, from Tracey Emin’s drunken cavorting on television after the 1997 Turner Prize and Marcus Harvey’s portrait of the Moors Murderer Myra Hindley composed of children’s handprints to Jake and Dinos Chapman’s phallus-faced sculptures and Damien Hirst’s pickled animals.

While the group had no shared aesthetic or intention other than to grab attention, they managed to put art on the front page of newspapers and take their place alongside musicians and designers as an integral part of the cultural renaissance tagged Cool Britannia. In the process, many of the group finessed their devil-may-care attitude into enormous wealth.

Why Would Anyone Pay $450 Million for the ‘Salvator Mundi’? Because They’re Not Buying the Painting

An attempt to psychoanalyze the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi.’

Every May and November, many around the art world wonder aloud—with varying degrees of frustration—why so much of the media fixates its auction coverage on star lots and gaudy prices. The 36-hour frenzy following Christie’s sale of Salvator Mundi (circa 1500), the so-called “Last da Vinci,” answered those questions with the blunt force of a bowling ball dropped onto a parked car from a penthouse window.

By now, everyone reading this piece knows that the painting sold for a hallucinatory amount of money: $450.3 million with the auction house premium, crushing the painting’s guarantee of nearly $100 million by a 4.5X multiple. And ever since, nearly everyone with even a tangential interest in art has felt compelled to grapple with the unexpected result in some way, even if only by vocalizing how much more attention or money we as a species could be dedicating to other, more important issues.

I’m sympathetic to that viewpoint. However, regardless of whether you’d committed yourself to avoiding the art market entirely or felt you’d made complete peace with big money’s impact on culture, seeing Salvator Mundi’s price tag is still like taking your dog out for its regular morning walk only for it to be snatched off the street by a pterodactyl. The outcome is so far out of bounds that it bends our understanding of reality’s basic parameters.

The Art Market Moves East: How Gagosian, David Zwirner, and 14 Other Western Art Businesses Are Trying to Expand to Asia

China has been described as “the largest growth market for the art business, anywhere.” See how auctioneers and dealers are tapping into it.

In the past year alone, no fewer than six galleries have opened or announced plans to open an outpost or office somewhere in Asia.

Amid announcement after announcement, it may feel like Western art businesses have been working forever to tap into the Asian art market. But in fact, the push to set up outposts in China—as well as South Korea and Japan—began less than a decade ago. And much of the momentum has picked up only in the last several years. In a recent interview, the CEO of Phillips, Edward Dolman, called China “potentially the largest growth market for the art business, anywhere.”

Now, galleries are looking not only to import their own artists to cities like Shanghai and Beijing, but also to scout major local talent. And some have begun to look beyond financial hubs like Hong Kong to expand into less saturated markets like Seoul.

Having trouble keeping up with all the action? We have compiled a handy list of major galleries and auction houses’ initiatives in Asia to get you up to speed—fast.

From Duchamp to Demand: 10 Masterpieces That Show the Evolution of Conceptual Art

In a 1967 Artforum article titled “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” the artist Sol LeWitt gave a simple definition for what would soon become one of the crucial facets of contemporary art in the 20th century and beyond. “In conceptual art,” he writes, “the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work….The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.” In a few short paragraphs, LeWitt cast aside concerns about aesthetics and visual expression in favor of a new way of art making, one that takes place primarily in the mind of an artist such that the making of the physical object becomes “a perfunctory affair.” Unbound from traditional art mediums, conceptual artists quickly moved into idea-privileging formats such as found objects, archival documentation, text, and video.

Conceptual art was very much in vogue from the late 1960s through the ‘70s, alongside related movements like Minimalism, but strictly speaking it precedes LeWitt’s famous definition. Today, we might see it as existing on a continuum from the early-20th-century works of Duchamp and Magritte to the very 21st-century art of Thomas Demand. The ten works below, each excerpted from the new edition of Phaidon’s The Art Book, offer just a slice of the depth and variety of conceptual artworks from the past 100 years.

What Is Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ Really Selling? Cracking the $100 Million da Vinci Code

Jesus saves, but the buyer of da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ will spend—a lot.

The signs all point one way: Christie’s upcoming sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s spooky Salvator Mundi is the latest and perhaps most convincing portent that we are living in the End Times.

In the Bible, Christ and his apostles held their property in common. Now, this image of Christ as “Savior of the World” will be the ultimate piece of private property, sold in a spectacle of unhinged wealth (the pre-sale estimate is $100 million). As a symbol of society out of balance, the golden calf’s got nothing on the Salvator Mundi.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Maybe so—but the rich man can buy a form of earthly immortality through association with “the last Leonardo in private hands.”

Lord knows in whose hands, public or private, the Salvator Mundi will end up. I hope it goes somewhere people can see it, because it’s a cool painting, full of oddities and mysteries.


The Evolution of Art, Part II: From Minimalism Until Now

How did we get to where we are today in the realm of fine art? Who were the artists that changed the course of art history and what were the artworks that broke the mold? In Part I of this two-part series we described the advances in Modern art starting with the advent of abstraction and ending with Donald Judd and the Minimalists, showing the progression of art from 1915 to 1969. But what happened next? Here we introduce some of the more recent developments leading up to art today, starting with feminist art in the ‘70s and ending with new media art.

(To see movements one through five, read The Evolution of Art: Artworks That Advanced Our Understanding of the Medium, Part I.)Je

The Evolution of Art: Artworks That Advanced Our Understanding of the Medium, Part I

Today, art can be almost anything. But there was a time in the not-so-distant past when abstraction was inconceivable, and it was believed that art could only represent something that already existed in the real world. There was a time when an object couldn’t be considered art unless it showed evidence of the artist’s touch. And until relatively recently, processes like silkscreen printmaking or the use of industrial materials like steel were considered off-limits in the realm of fine art.

So, how did we get to where we are today? Who were the artists that changed the course of art history? And what were the artworks that broke the mold? Though you’ve probably heard of most of the artists in the list we present to you below, we’re here to explain what discovery each artist made, and how they effectively changed the definition of art. In this two-part series, we’ll first describe the advances in Modern art beginning with Duchamp’s urinal and ending with Donald Judd and the Minimalists in 1969. In Part II, we’ll introduce some of the more recent developments leading up to art today. 

Yayoi Kusama and the Amazing Polka-Dotted, Selfie-Made Journey to Greatness

The artist of “Infinity” rooms has become an Instagram darling.  But two new gallery exhibitions in New York show that she’s much more than that — an almost frighteningly fertile talent.

Sometimes I think Yayoi Kusama might be the greatest artist to come out of the 1960s and one of the few, thanks in part to her long life, still making work that feels of the moment. Other times I think she’s a bit of a charlatan who produces more Kusama paintings than the world needs and stoops to conquer with mirrored “Infinity” rooms that attract hordes of selfie-seekers oblivious to her efforts on canvas.

Ms. Kusama’s current three-ring circus of exhibitions at David Zwirner’s uptown and downtown spaces — which include 76 works on canvas — argue in favor of greatness.  On all fronts, Ms. Kusama has a formidable urge toward art and fame fueled by what seems to be a steely will and also a great mental focus — partly a function of psychological imbalances that have led to periods of hospitalization. (She began to experience visual and auditory hallucinations as a child and they continue.) She has characterized art as her chance for salvation both here and in the afterlife.

The Four-Hour Art Week? Read Carol Bove’s Self-Help Guide for Artists

The sculptor Carol Bove likes to play with associations and forms as she builds her assemblages of constructed and readymade objects. Time and space to experiment are crucial elements of her process, as is a certain psychological sovereignty—Bove writes that “creating a nonpurposive, free space in which to play and have fun is essential.” Here, the Brooklyn-based artist gives her best advice for finding happiness (rather than “succeeding”) as an artist, excerpted in its entirety from the new book. 

For example:

MONEY   Becoming an artist is not a good business plan.

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (Linda Nochlin, From 1971)

Implications of the Women’s Lib movement for art history and for the contemporary art scene—or, silly questions deserve long answers.

A version of this story originally appeared in the January 1971 issue of ARTnews.

While the recent upsurge of feminist activity in this country has indeed been a liberating one, its force has been chiefly emotional—personal, psychological and subjective—centered, like the other radical movements to which it is related, on the present and its immediate needs, rather than on historical analysis of the basic intellectual issues which the feminist attack on the status quo automatically raises.1 Like any revolution, however, the feminist one ultimately must come to grips with the intellectual and ideological basis of the various intellectual or scholarly disciplines—history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, etc.—in the same way that it questions the ideologies of present social institutions. If, as John Stuart Mill suggested, we tend to accept whatever is as natural, this is just as true in the realm of academic investigation as it is in our social arrangements. In the former, too, “natural” assumptions must be questioned and the mythic basis of much so-called “fact” brought to light. And it is here that the very position of woman as an acknowledged outsider, the maverick “she” instead of the presumably neutral “one”—in reality the white-male-position-accepted-as-natural, or the hidden “he” as the subject of all scholarly predicates—is a decided advantage, rather than merely a hindrance of a subjective distortion.

What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought—and true greatness—are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.

Coming Face to Face With Jimmie Durham

The sculptor’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum is a “brilliant, half-century-long act of politically driven self-invention,” our critic writes.

“I feel fairly sure that I could address the entire world if only I had a place to stand,” the peripatetic American artist Jimmie Durham said in the 1980s. Now he has that place: the fifth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, where his magnetic traveling retrospective has arrived with a comet trail of controversy.

The controversy, like many attached to art are these days, is about identity and ownership: who has the right to do and say what. Mr. Durham, 77, is widely perceived as a Native American artist, maybe theNative American artist. He has often spoken of himself as Cherokee; his work has made frequent references to indigenous culture.

But when the retrospective, “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World,” moved from its originating institution, the Hammer Museumin Los Angeles, to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, several historians raised objections to his ethnic claims, asserting that there’s no evidence that he is Indian at all.

Jeff Koons Gives it Up to The Masters

Whitewall met with the artist in his sprawling Chelsea studio just days after his “Masters” collection launched for Louis Vuitton, a project he saw as quite public and accessible, too. The special line puts the work of Da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, Fragonard, and Van Gogh on accessories like bags and scarves, touting the name of each master in bold reflective metal type. So while perhaps the Louis Vuitton bags aren’t accessible in cost per se (albeit much more than an original Koons work), they will be seen on the street.

We chatted with Koons about his experience working with LVMH for the second time and about the connection between our cultural life and our biological makeup.

It’s about reaching the highest state of consciousness. I just saw a Twombly show in Paris at the Pompidou. It’s an amazing show. At the beginning of the show in 1953 there are a couple examples of Cy’s paintings. As you go through the show, you see the work developing. When you come to the last section of the show, where his late works are, you realize it’s almost like he prepared himself his whole life for his last works. These works are absolutely dealing with the sublime. And it’s like he’s on the other side; he’s there. It’s phenomenal.

I think Cy did it. Picasso did it. Picasso’s late works, I think, are this level of intuitive thought. I think both these people really ended up at the sublime. And we all can do it. Every individual has the freedom to exercise this power all the time.  I believe that on our deathbed, right at the moment of passing, that we may feel a sense of how easy it would have been to do all the things we really wanted to do. And think, “Oh, if only.” And I would like to do that now. I would like to achieve that level of understanding now. We have that freedom now, and we can exercise all this. So that’s why I make my work, to try to get closer to that level of consciousness.

Artist Stan Douglas: why I restaged the London riots

Stan Douglas’s latest photographs recreate two key moments from the civil unrest of 2011. The artist talks racial profiling, riot porn and why he’s fascinated by ‘ruptures in the status quo’.

So how much of your work is really documenting the ineptitude of the police?” Stan Douglas is laughing at my question without completely avoiding it. “Well, the work can’t conceal the points at which they are out of their depth,” he says. We’re sitting in the Victoria Miro gallery in Mayfair, London, talking over the sounds of drilling as the artist’s latest large-scale works are secured to the wall next door.

The 57-year-old Canadian has spent the last 30 years making richly cinematic and allusive conceptual works that echo Hollywood noirs, westerns and cold war spy thrillers, Melville, Kafka and Hitchcock, while digging into deeper sociopolitical themes. His 2016 film The Secret Agent relocated Conrad’s novel, set in 1886 London, to Portugal after the 1974 carnation revolution. Disco Angola (2012) and Luanda-Kinshasa (2013) also explored historical moments of upheaval – what he calls “a rupturing of the status quo”.

An Eye-Popping Mid-Century Apartment Filled With Pollocks, Klines, and de Koonings

If you had Ben Heller’s eye, you’d have picked 50 straight Derby winners, or signed 100 future Hall of Fame ballplayers when they were 17. “When I think of my old apartment on the Upper West Side,” says the tall, spry Heller, who is 91, “even I’m shocked.” In the mid-1950s, the talent he was spotting was Abstract Expressionist, and the art he amassed and later sold would be worth about a billion dollars today.

In this living room at 151 Central Park West — where Heller lived from 1959 to around 1975 he had three Jackson Pollocks and one Barnett Newman. In the dining room was a Giacometti sculpture, a Kline, and a Johns. Also hanging around were works by Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still.


The Four Horsemen of America’s Apocalypse: Their Work Unearths the Seething Muck Beneath the Shiny Surface of American Culture

The Apocalypse has long been a staple of American film, pulp fiction, popular culture, and high art and literature. Lately it has also been looming large in our political consciousness. From a presidential adviser who is convinced we have entered the fourth and final “turning” in human history to charges by environmentalists that our withdrawal from the Paris climate accord may push global climate change to a tipping point, the Trump era has so far been a time of dark forebodings and doomsday rumblings. At the same time, the art world has been facing its own version of Armageddon with the threatened demise of federal arts funding, the uncertain future of the NEA, and renewed attacks on the First Amendment.

Conner, Shaw, Pettibon, and Wojnarowicz burrow into moments in America’s recent past when the forces of darkness seemed ascendant. Conner’s reflections on the allure of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, Shaw’s fascination with religious sects that resist the pull of modernity, Pettibon’s exploration of the rubble left by the failure of the 1960s utopian dreams, and Wojnarowicz’s evocation of the AIDS catastrophe of the 1980s all belong to a tradition of anxiety rooted in Apocalyptic thinking. But they also remind us of the ambiguity at the heart of the eschatological narrative. The End looms, but there remains a large space for human agency. A sense of doom may be eternal. What matters is what we do about it.

Tehching Hsieh, extreme performance artist: ‘I give you clues to the crime’

The Venice Biennale is hosting the biggest exhibition of work by the Taiwanese artist Marina Abramović calls ‘the master’.

“My impression of the Venice Bienniale is that it is the Olympic Games of the arts,” says Tehching Hsieh. “I’m in the category of marathon.”

If any artist knows about endurance it is is Hsieh, a Taiwanese artist who has created some of the most extreme performance art ever made. His work, mostly made in obscurity in a series of challenging one-year performances, was a precursor to the likes of Marina Abramović who acknowledges him as “the master”.

Recognition has come relatively late for Hsieh, who at 66 years old describes himself as “semi-retired”. Thirty years after his first year-long performance piece, his work was exhibited in 2009 in the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art, and in 2014 he held an exhibition at Carriageworks in Sydney. In his most extensive retrospective yet, at this year’s 57th Venice Biennale, he is representing his home country Taiwan in a pavilion that records some of his most fascinating and thought-provoking works via an archive of documents, contracts, photographs and maps.

Rachel Whiteread Retrospective @ Tate Britain

A metal sign among the found objects, tiny moulds, and notebooks, selected and arranged from across Rachel Whiteread’s 30 year career, reads: ‘Ancient Monuments Acts, 1913 and 1931. Any person who injures or defaces this monument may be fined and ordered to pay the costs of repairs or may be imprisoned.’ The display case is located in the foyer before the exhibition and, along with photographs of Whitereads public installations and a film documenting the construction and demolition of House (1993-4), sets up the retrospective as a study in sculpture as an interrogation of public structures and space. It’s not clear where the metal sign came from, or whether Whiteread found it or removed it from its monument, but either way its removal points to the ephemeral nature of public buildings. Decay, exposure to the elements, or vandalism mean that, Ancient Monuments Acts or no, any structure’s days are numbered.

Gerhard Richter: Brisbane show honours German master’s irony and influence

The Life of Images offers a sweeping retrospective of a visionary photo painter whose work continues to resonate

To say that an international artist can be hugely influential in Australia, where their work has rarely been seen​, is to pay testament not just to the aesthetic qualities of their work but also to the appeal of the ideas behind it. 

German-born Gerhard Richter is one such artist. Since the early 1960s he has explored a number of related themes and ideas, producing paintings and photographs that question the nature of the images that can be produced by both mediums. Through magazines and books, and later the web, Richter’s work has been the subject of intense interest by many Australian artists – even when access to it meant trips to galleries in Europe or the US.