Again, how to look at Hirst? Should he be evaluated as an artist or an entrepreneur? Or is it that they are one and the same? Given how well he sells his products (and at what prices) he's certainly top notch. But what is his value?
A certain mister Damien from Britain who lives on a remote farm in Devon and owns a plot of land in Mexico likes the theme of death and preserved animals; from bugs and sheep to sharks. The gentleman's work is priced at 215 million pounds. He's not a banker nor a boss of some multinational corporation, he is Damien Hirst – the famous visual artist. It seems artists are very well off. Well, mister Hirst at the very least. No word about a bohemian life of want. What is so special about Hirst, why is he so successful and most importantly, why do his works cost so much? Is Hirst one of the rare individuals in the line of Great Masters, with extraordinary artistic potency? Was he at the right place at the right time? Did he get lucky? Is he a revolutionary? Did he find Aladdin's lamp? Andy Warhol once said: "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art." With this quote in mind, Hirst appears as a most fascinating artist, who was able to create a brand out of his name. Brands sell well and Mr. Hist is a very recognizable one, as well as one of the richest living artists. In one of the interviews at the beginning of his career he said: "I can't wait to get into the position of making really bad art and get away with it. At this moment if I did certain things people would look at it and say "fuck off". But after a while you can get away with it." Yes, a person has to have a goal and believe in it (the formula for success?). Mr. Hirst set after his goal; and whatever he touched (well, those animals were mostly touched by his assistants) became not gold, but millions.
How do (we) other artists see Hirst? Are we/they envious of him? Do we/they admire him? Do we/they regard him with contempt? And if the later, doesn't this also stem from envy (which we compensate by being aloft and contemptuous)? Wouldn't we all want to be successful and widely recognized and live well off our art? Yes! How does the insolent man do it? What did he do that opened all the doors for him? He put a shark in a display case! And he ordered his assistants to paint an infinite number of coloured dots! Are these ideas unusually lucid and their execution so sophisticated and virtuosic to deserve all this fame, success and money? Damien Hirst is a phenomenon. The prices that Warhol's works have reached today, years after his death - Hirst achieved that in his lifetime.
Again, how to look at Hirst? Should he be evaluated as an artist or an entrepreneur? Or is it that they are one and the same? Given how well he sells his products (and at what prices) he's certainly top notch. But what is his value? What is the value of his artistic opus and is it balanced with the price it has on the market? Is price the same as value? Is that important in art? Who priced his work at such vertiginous heights – himself (the audacity!) or the curators, collectors and the art dealers (the market then)?
The phenomenon of Hirst provokes me to question: What does an artist need to be successful? Is his success and visibility linked not only to the quality of his work, his artistic potential but also his entrepreneurship, his ability to present his art in the right light and sell it? Of course! During my early years of work within the art world I simply skipped over the economic aspects. I hadn't even crossed my mind that in art, money was an important factor (in many different ways). My motives were exceedingly noble and clean, but above all I had a stipend from the Ministry of culture.
When I attended the Laban dance academy in London, one of the subjects on the schedule was management. The idea of it seemed repulsive to me. I don't need to neatly package my art, promote and sell myself, my mission is to create. Once a work of art is "out there" it has a life of its own (the 19 years-old Katja is saying to herself as she's sitting in the classroom and listening to a presentation about which flyers and posters get noticed the most and which accompanying texts catch the people's interest). Why is someone at an art academy lecturing me about how to write a CV, how to apply to a call, which calls, how to present my project, how to join various networks and so on? I had no trouble labeling the people who took all that seriously as non-artists without a backbone, instead of dedicating themselves to art and thinking about it they did everything else but it – seeking opportunities, money, connections and acquaintances, learning to write likeable applications and to market their "products". I myself was convinced that I didn't need that, that my work would (if it was worthy and of quality) find a way on its own and speak for itself while I would be recognized and successful for it. How nice! I had one ingredient for success – I believed – but maybe I was somewhat lacking in the other area – a clear long term goal. And what about these days? Now I'm not so convinced of my genius anymore. I can hear myself becoming one of those bitter people who have an outburst every now and then, full of complaints about how they have no chances or money to explore what they're interested in and develop their work while also ensuring their well-being. And they closed our ministry on top of that! But I'm being bitter because success hasn't happened to me yet! I admit, I would really want to be Damien Hirst (well, not literally). Who wouldn't want to exhibit or in my case be in performances all around the world, have a million hits for your name on Google, have imitators and forgers, accept international awards and the same time be really well off? Would all this external recognition also give me a sense of self-worth? Is Damien Hirst happy with himself? Does selling his work for millions relieve him of self-doubt and doubt in the value of his art? Does he believe his price? Why wouldn't he?
Ok, on one side you have mister Hirst as a good artist-entrepreneur who is selling something, but who is on the other side, who is buying? Who thinks it's worth it to pay between 800000 and 3 million dollars for one painting from the series of colour dots? And what are they actually buying - the painting or the status that comes with it? The priciest piece of art, Hirst's diamond skull worth 100 million dollars was bought by Hirst's gallery White Cube, since no one else was willing to pay such a price for it. Did Hirst price himself too highly? Or is he becoming less interesting and there are new, more interesting brands (artists) and products (works of art) arriving on the market? And truly, people say that Hirst isn't provoking such fervor, shock, approval or indignation as before. People have grown accustomed to him, little by little and new faces have arrived on the scene. If in the 90s Hirst was a "must have" amongst serious art collectors and corporations which buy artworks (for example the Deutsche Bank) and people were fighting for his display cases with cute and less cute animals submerged in formaldehyde, in these recent years the owners of all these works are increasingly concerned. Hirst's works have begun to lose value with his fading popularity - their prices are falling. A little nervous, these art lovers and experts tug at their chins, ponder, and then call each other and put their heads together over a nice lunch (yum, lobsters). What to do? There's a crisis! The price of stocks, whops, I mean Hirst's works is falling. And so one of these valiant men got an idea: "A retrospective!" And the others cried out enthusiastically: "John, that's a great idea! Waiter, bring us a Don Perignon. We need to celebrate." And the men with the champagne were right about what's profitable because the value of an artist increases accordingly to where his work was displayed, in which important galeries, who had owned it before and so on. In an article in The Guardian the author gently suggested that the recent retrospective of Hirst's work in the Tate gallery was also carried out with this intent – to increase the value of his art again. Hirst himself was probably happy about the retrospective, but I think the happiest were the proud owners of his work at the buffet during the opening night (I imagine that on that joyful evening they drank a glass too much and relaxed to talk for a long time about the really important things in life, for example golf). It was confirmed that Hirst was a good investment, that he's still not to be discarded and the value of the stock rose again. HOORAY!
I'm still perplexed by the question: can the value of a work of art be equaled to its price? Success is something, it's a concept in the public sphere, as are status and wealth. Doubtlessly all this influences the personal perception, an individual's evaluation of himself and in the case of an artist of his work as well, the same goes for his potential customers. But value, what of it? A few years ago in New York an experiment was made: on one of the subway stations a violinist played on his prestigious instrument, he was scheduled to play the next day on a concert the tickets for which were priced up to a 1000 dollars. He played a repertoire of some of the most complex compositions for the violin. During the day he got some money from the passers-by but only a few stopped and really listened to him (supposedly of those that did most were children). Maybe someone who had bought the really expensive ticket for that concert passed by the artist and thought him a common student of the music academy, trying to pay rent with playing on the subway. The story speaks about context. We often value things through the context in which we perceive them and not by themselves (how does that proverb go: don't judge a book by its covers). The context can lift someone out of mediocrity or push them down into it. Is a small drawing by an unknown author that I might find at the flea market in Berlin worth more than Hirst's diamond skull, despite its low price (I can get two for the price of one). Yes. Because of the talent that I can recognize in the drawing, but also because of my personal relationship to it (it's a part of my trip to Berlin, a beautiful sunny spring day, when I'm holding my man under his arm and we're laughing as we're walking down the street) – it holds a broader meaning, it's part of a story. For the same reason I can be moved more intensely by a rehearsal for a performance to which I'm invited than a perfectly though out, prepared and performed stage spectacle. The human dimension? On the other hand I'm writing this text on Apple's Air. I could have a computer with better performance for the same money, but Apple is so simple, so sexy, so light, you simply need to have one. We project our desires, hopes, values, frustrations, ambitions and so on into things, as well as artworks and thus give them value. Just like Apple skillfully promoted the value of their products and thus justified their price, the same can happen in art. But when value and price meld, there are no more limits – infinity and irrationality can begin. But I doubt that for the gentlemen with the champagne Hirst's artworks have a personal, intimate value, that they became completely obsessed with the sharks (as far as I know they don't even have them displayed in their mansions, offices or gardens, they're all safely stored in special secured warehouses. What is at work here then? Money and only money?
Translated by Gregor Vuga