6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) in:

Ulrich Blanché

Damien Hirst, page 231 - 252

Gallery Art in a Material World

1. Edition 2018, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4030-0, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-6772-7,

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) »The methods and special effects of modern shopping – the endlessness, the excessiveness, the over abundance, the crafted fireworks of colors and shapes, the emphasis on superficiality and the ease of decipherment find resonance in their classification, fascination, beauty and perfidy not only in our media society but also in the art of the time.«658 Max Hollein, curator Which attitude does Hirst take towards consumption? What strategies does the artist use to escape leave the consumer cycle? How does Hirst make an issue out of capitalism in his art? Generally speaking, Hirst exaggerates the radical secularization of our society. On a superficial level, citing other works, sometimes almost to the level of being parasitic, Damien Hirst’s content engages with general, timeless themes such as death, religion, love, or norms and value(s) – abstract concepts that are independent of current political, socio-cultural backgrounds that »somehow always« fit. Thus, as in the case of multinational and global brands, his product presentation is universally applicable.659 Hence Hirst's art remains often commonplace, vague, and superficial, reflecting the culture of consumption. What Ullrich says of consumer products can be transferred to Hirst’s art as well: »But where do the things that products have to offer go beyond familiar chains of association?[...] The fact that most manufacturers are content to create a screen onto which many different consumers may project their lives and interpretations, should already suffice as an answer to this question [...]: Most narratives die after the second and third associations. «660 Hirst seeks to avoid judgement in his art. He created works to last by using materials and motifs that should outlast the present age – his art tries to be the opposite of ephemeral art. Hirst pretends in his art that it would survive 6) 658 Max Hollein in Shopping. 2002, p. 14. 659 Klein 2000, p. 116. 660 Ullrich 2006, p. 196-197. 231 in a time in which the fact that nothing lasts forever is common knowledge. The artist deals with a phenomenon described by Bolz: »The more modern, that is differentiated, collaborative work-sharing, and therefore unclear society becomes, the greater the desire for unity and wholeness [...]« at least for the individual or for the (potential) buyer/viewer: »Instead of living embedded in a self-assured family or clan that lasts over generations and acting as a part of the whole [...], he [man, n. UB] is himself – though quite small – a whole. [...] Independence and self-determination therefore result, not insignificantly, in a reduced chance to exist beyond one’s own biological life.«661 Consumer culture attempts to fill this hole by using wholeness-givers with proven integrity. Similar to the consumer culture, Hirst ironically emulates unity and dependable wholeness in his art for the viewer, drawing particularly from the imagery and inscribed value of other areas, such as religion, medicine, and advertising, in his words: »I look for impulses, levers, triggers for my art and find them in science, religion, and art.«662 »Modern design and marketing, supported by numerous sciences, have brought it to the point that it can be said that things have the same capabilities as works of art have had for two hundred years: they pave the way for memories, fictionalize the world of everyday life, transform identities, open perspectives for the future.«663 Hirst moves in the opposite direction and applies the achievements of public relations, advertising, marketing, design, psychology, sociology, and consumer research to help to create art that appears to be mechanically perfect. Hirst appears to only show consumption phenomena, without taking sides. That is, he pretends to emphasize merely that the shown phenomena are worth seeing, but not whether what is seen should be evaluated as good or bad. In this way Hirst makes himself simultaneously an observer, critic, and supporter of our consumer expectations. Through his symbolic and decidedly sensational presentation of consumer products he shows that in a 661 Ullrich 2006, p. 26. 662 Hirst interviewed by Holger Liebs: Damien Hirst über Glauben. SZ. 11 April 2010. Hirst re-translated from German: »Ich suche nach Impulsen, Hebeln, Auslösern für meine Kunst und finde sie in Wissenschaft, Religion und Kunst.« 663 Ibid, p. 193. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 232 consumer society »between the symbolic and the spectacular [...] no distinction [is] possible [...].«664 Hirst creates not only art, but also ironic luxury items and status symbols. The artist pokes fun at the one-sidedness and the cliché of typical, critical consumerism platitudes – even in the case of his own works. Damien Hirst shows man's relationship to things in the way he defines himself as an artist by the possession and consumption of things. He must not (or only in very rare cases) represent people in general, because as human beings, their hopes, desires, and fears are reflected in Hirst's things, his art/ consumer products, sometimes quite literally: »Often the question can be posed; who is the consumer and who is the product – or whether both worlds have been one for quite some time now?«665 In a contemporary consumer society man himself has become a work of art or an object of consumption, a self-branded »me, inc.«. As in the case of the machinations of Gunter von Hagens, sometimes after death the human body itself becomes (albeit dressed up by science) a consumer product. »So people adopt strategies of the brand manufacturers and conversely provide themselves as projection screens, which offer the fulfillment of the visible wishes that are currently most vivid. They become simultaneously consumer products and consumers, although as the latter they are always waiting for a better deal [...].«666 Viewers of Hirst’s art see the reflection of their humanity, their desires, and their expectations in his works. The death of the old ideologies in the Western world has left capitalism as the sole meaning-bearer : »[...] today external grounding or anchoring forces are offered neither by religion nor by the nation, neither the family nor the revolutionary idea. This makes the emergence of consumerism as a substitute for religion understandable.«667 Quite a child of post modernity, Damien Hirst is no longer just an observer and seismograph of his time, who saw the death of the author and the the end of ideologies, but he participates in his time and he becomes complicit in it as »[i]n a system without meaning there is no more innocence«668. 664 Baudrillard 1978, p. 10. 665 Max Hollein in Shopping. 2002, p. 14. 666 Eva Illouz in Die Tageszeitung, 26 April 2004, p. 13. Quoted in Ullrich 2006, p. 55. 667 Bolz 2002, p. 98. 668 Baudrillard 1978, p. 11. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 233 By meticulously, quite contrary to the principle of l'art pour l'art, meeting potential consumer demands, which at least superficially include both consumer wishes and consumer criticism. Hirst's consumer-paradise-like illusion has the threat to be dismissed as kitsch, as mechanical »starry-eyed idealism« or do-goodism in the current post-modern consumer society of a buyer/viewer who knows every trick in the advertising and sales books. The artist counters that with different types of alleviation or stabilization the the much-cited »break« that is often achieved by irony, (de-) placement, over-identification, or a controlled »shock«. Hirst’s Illusion of Consumer Paradise The Controlled »Shock« Hirst exploits classic kitsch motifs and appeals to »the feeling«, the old longing for a perfect world, unclouded optimism and sweetness, to be satisfied visually. Like Warhol and Koons he creates art that should primarily be pleasing (also the masses) and it therefore often balances on the edge of kitsch and art. The knowledge that Hirst used real dead animals is inherent in the act of consuming his work, as is the knowledge that Banksy attached his artworks under illegal and adventurous circumstances, something that provides also Hirst’s works with authenticity through little, controlled »shocks.« In particular »kitschy« images of animals can already be found in Koons’ work (Hirst’s predecessor). Koons reaches this controlled »shock« through »wrong« material (a Balloon Dog made of steel), unusually large size (a »puppy« sculpture more than 12 meters high), and discrepancy with the location (»Gazing balls« in a museum). Reality comes into play in the case of Hirst. However, the associations shift from »sweet« fairytales and children’s illustrations to serious issues of life and death. Strictly speaking, the controlled »shock« that Hirst's art might trigger can also be seen as a postmodern version of kitsch adapted to the present. His art satisfies kitsch and, at the same time, pretends to be the opposite. Ultimately, he wants his art to be both pleasing and easily consumed. So the artist tries to solve a common problem of consumer culture: »Comfort a) i) Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 234 gained, pleasure lost«.669 Also, consumer products should always be both exciting and appeasing, because »[w]hat is not recent enough, is boring – what is too new is strange.«670 Hirst thus reflects consumer society and advertising, the purely consumerist »sister« of art, by using negative advertising, i.e. provocative shock strategies. Hirst's animals have to be dead, as his art is material, salable, consumable like corned beef. This materiality, salability, potentially eternal element of art is ultimately important to Hirst. Over-Identification and Irony Hirst does more than just play along with consumer society and the media, he over-identifies with the 'totalitarianism' of consumption to explicitly demonstrate the superego of capitalism. These methods of ironic over-identification (or over-affirmation) as described by Žižek, which are certainly susceptible to misinterpretation, can just as easily be understood as the opposite, over-identification, total identification with the art market and its rules. Ultimately, it cannot be proved either way as to whether Hirst (or Koons and Warhol) glorify consumer society or make it a subject of irony in an overaffirmative way. Since he created works that allow conflicting interpretations, both interpretations apply simultaneously. »The results have been accused of kitsch, and raise questions of whether he is mocking or celebrating the culture of consumerism.«671 The concept of irony through emphasis and over-identification is a strategy of fine arts to deal with immanent contradictions that arise from the fact that works of art cannot be classified divorced from their creators with blanket terms like 'good' plus art or 'bad' plus commerce, kitsch et cetera. The opposite, a purely biographical interpretation is equally impossible, but perhaps an intermediate stage allows for interpretation, namely that an artistic persona created by the artist, who is related to the work itself can be seen as (the real) work of art. Subtle criticism of consumption coupled with supererogatory commercial viability is an irreconcilable contradiction, which ii) 669 See Bolz 2002, p. 89. 670 Ibid. 671 This quote was aimed at Koons and in this context was transferred to Hirst. Simon Bolitho: Jeff Koons. 2008. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 235 Hirst and Jeff Koons or (already in concept) Warhol unite in their overall concept of their aura by means of ostensible or real irony. Like Koons, Hirst linked the two realms of consumption and art in his persona in a provocative way, despite their seeming incompatibility because of the art theology of l'art pour l'art and despite the fact that they are often disclaimed by the art world. »For a long time, it was part of [...] the winning formula of modern art to devoutly obscure the commercial side of its existence, it not outright deny it [...].«672 Irony prevents Hirst from being too flippant in his artistic statement. It is always present in Hirst’s work but more subtle and partly unrecognizable as interwoven with the concept of over-identification. Hirst’s admonishments appear only when sought out. Consumption remains for Hirst ultimately always just speciousness, a false offer for the viewer that remains perpetually unattainable. Images of Images The concept of appropriation, acquisition, or annexation is not only central to the art of Duchamp and Hirst, but also for the relationship between art and consumerism that represents our time so well, to fancy and to want. Duchamp's anti-art used seemingly worthless or cheap and ubiquitous objects/consumer objects to visualize through provocation the arbitrary production of value (not only) in art. Although his readymades, at the time they were created, were meant provoke and be unsalable, Hirst works provoked (because of the drive to be avant-garde as well as the continuous bombardment of the modern viewer with the new – information or images) to initially be considered at all, and finally, to be bought – both became inseparable in a consumer society. Today however, Hirst’s primary provocation is that he makes his art so salable. Duchamp has now become accepted, particularly through his »anti-game« he gained credibility a place in the art canon, Hirst is still working on it. Like Koons and Warhol, Hirst also considers pop culture as seen through media consumption not only as equal, perhaps even superior, to the so-called high culture, but also primarily quite simply as contemporary. This, b) 672 Walter Grasskamp: Konsumglück. Die Ware Erlösung. Munich 2000, p. 116. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 236 however, does not mean that both high and low culture could/should/must not (also) be viewed in a critical light, quite the contrary. Each ironic parody confirms the status quo, just as it calls it into question. Hirst is, to put it bluntly, a court jester of a consumer society in which he wants to exist in his own way. Inspired by the kitsch-pope Koons, the cynic Hirst crowned himself as consumer king of the art world. Damien Hirst did not initially become known and 'important' with the help of the large, traditional art institutions, but rather through the mass media – print and TV. His art, designed for media reproduction, is immediately eye-catching in the media. It works in a shop window and conveyed through the media both verbally and on photographs. It is visually so easy to consume because it exploits and reflects the rules and laws of the media. But Hirst wants to forego »profane« issues like media consumption in his work and instead devote himself to the great themes of life; death, faith, love, and hope. He does so, however, in a visual language common to him (and to the contemporary potential buyer/viewer), a language tremendously influenced by advertising and consumer culture. The ever-eager Hirst, always striving for eternalness, omits explicit media consumerism critique. Implicitly his media consumption (like that of the viewer) on a formal level is often served by formal allusions, but again only in the form of a diagnosis of the quantitative and qualitative dominance of our media consumption. The viewer can see this as criticism of consumption, but in the original meaning of the word criticism, where a rather neutral first inventory is followed by pros and cons of the criticized subject. Hirst is proud of his diverse consumption of media and pop culture and his glorification of these through emphasis in his works calls viewers to do the same: to follow in his footsteps and consume. (Dis-) Placement and Staging Hirst (dis-)places his art objects – he brings other realities into traditional art spaces. Through his (dis-)placement of consumer objects, props, or whole »stages« in an art context, Hirst presents consumerism, if one wants to see it this way, as often unthinking: faith in medicine and science, faith in religion or capitalism, in financial value, kitsch, the supposedly beautiful, collecting – consumption is questionable for Hirst. He also celebrates »wantc) 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 237 ing and owning«, and also shows that this can certainly fill the viewer with meaning (albeit not always correctly and not forever). A form of (dis-)placement appears also in the pastoral scene. This occurs today in the urban setting according to Stallabrass, who transferred the results of Empson for pastoral literature on Young British Art: »[T]he outlook embodied in pastoral has been turned from the rural to the urban, particularly to the landscape of the inner city. […] Pastoral is plainly an art that is about common people but not for or by them. But insofar as it is an attitude of the rich, it involves them in a double view of the poor: both that the rich concept that they have better powers of expression that they can bring to full consciousness and representation the unconscious virtues of the poor, but at the same time […] the poor may have an advantage over the rich.«673 To Stallabrass, Damien Hirst, an artist with working class background, is a pioneer of this trend: »Indeed one way to look at this renewal of pastoral in British art is to see its originary move as being to shift the site of pastoral from the countryside to the inner city; and again, Damien Hirst serves as the usher, with his metaphorical murder of the rural idyll.«674 He stages his artworks to a degree, where the mise-en-scene is more dominant than the staged work itself. Thus he reflects contemporary consumer culture. Hirst transfers and stages »pharmacies«, »churches«, »operating theaters«, »natural history museums«, or »art museums« in galleries and art museums. These settings/»pharmacies«, »churches«, »operating theaters«, »natural history museums«, or »art museums« are easily consumable spectacles or shops in the same way that art galleries are never free from commercial interests. By transferring »value« to a different location, an art venue, he demonstrates the theatrical, the made-up, the actually (at least also) dressed up for consumption nature inherent in both places, both in the actual and associated locations. Both venues are trying to hide behind their supposed objectivity, but are blatantly unmasked by Hirst. 673 Stallabrass 2006, p. 250-252. 674 Ibid, p. 253. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 238 Brands not Products The artistic idea is first revealed in the aura of the artist, similar to a registered trademark. It gains power through the artist’s signature on the art object, etched or burned-in like a brand or, to stick with the brand metaphor, as a logo: »The name of the brand promises the security of quality, it guarantees that the user will not be disappointed. Symbolized by the logo that traces back to guild signs, to labels of origin, it functions just like a crest.«675 By the magic touch of the master (which can also be seen ironically) an everyday object becomes art even in the time of Duchamp. Bolz compares the logo to the notion of the totem, which he handles in a way similar to the icon: »The totem differs from everyday objects in that it has the ability to function as an image that fascinates, that evokes the emotions that are bound up in it. In the system of consumerism, it is the logo that acts as the totem crest. The goods of modern markets can be read as a kind of secret code in which social life is religiously encrypted.«676 Even without a signature Hirst's art is easily recognizable, since he creates/ created iconic images or so effectively uses/used those of others that they are primarily associated with him in the media. This shift of Benjamin's aura of the artwork to the persona of the artist is due to the fact that Hirst's ideas are designed for reproducibility, they become art only with the quantity of their reproduction. This distinction also reflects the contemporary tendency to consider not the individual work, but the artist as a »total work of art«, a gesamtkunstwerk, in which the allegedly 'personal' attitude (about art as a consumer product), image, aura, or brand is more important and ultimately more artistic than the individual artwork. Such individual works are often parts of a series and can only be grasped as intrinsically imbedded in a larger context, which ultimately can be described only with that 'aura of the artist’. The artist works with series or motif series, which represent and reflect the concept of »brands not products« within the artist’s established brand. This branding concept has become increasingly important for consumer society since the 1980 s and is something that was started by corporations and grew to become internationally prevalent. Here intangibles like aura, name, d) 675 Bolz 2002, p. 121. 676 Ibid, p. 114. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 239 brand awareness and brand image are created and sold as consumer products. Under the label of Damien Hirst, pseudo-individual and pseudo-mechanical works of art can be produced in outsourced production lines partly built on an assembly line. These works are declared to have financial and/or artistic value, or they are »sanctified« at least in part independently of their own relevance simply because of their contact with the »star« (in whichever way), with the brand Hirst or Banksy (or both, for example in the case of cross promotion). This is partly confirmed and accepted by Hirst, partly rejected, and partly reflected back on society in an ironic or angry way. It becomes clear in Hirst’s works, that his aforementioned intentions are reaching their limits: his works, often perceived as glorifying consumption, have become symbols of our hedonistic and wasteful times, embodying the pride which goes before the fall, the financial crisis of 2008, and thus perhaps unwillingly becoming poster children for the criticism of consumption. The same can be said of consumer culture: »People also overestimate the power of design, marketing, and science, as if someone wanted to impute that it could be determined in advance, what a thing would cause. Even the most sophisticated »Cue Management« leaves enough space not only for flops, but also for positive surprises. Conversely, art is anything but free of calculations and some things that a recipient perceives as secret or inexhaustibly ambiguous are just a result of a clever use of well-proven effects..«677 An art like Damien Hirst’s, which reflects consumer culture, especially the associated audience and consumer locations, always exploits yet contains the disadvantages of this culture as well. Therefore this culture is confronted with similar allegations as consumer culture: »Only when consumer products hold a semantic density, which is comparable to art and high culture, will consumerism have lost its strongest argument – the charge of banality, obscenity, superficiality – and be silenced.«678 Hirst uses Warhol's commercial-art concept and less-so (though still) also Warhol’s formal instruments. Hirst also used serial arrangements, something used by Warhol as early as the 1960 s, which echoed commercial product lines, sold under the Warhol »brand', and were produced in his factory. Like Warhol, Hirst utilized a few techniques and motifs exhaustively in different variations and potentially infinite series for decades, making them his 677 Ullrich 2006, p. 194-195. 678 Ibid, p. 199. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 240 own, even his trademark, regardless of whether or not he invented them. Hirst, like Warhol, creates luxury art, which is easily identifiable as a »Warhol« or a »Hirst« even by a layman. Like Warhol, Hirst created the foundations of his series in just a few years as a young man. Since his commercial breakthrough came early in his life, Damien Hirst had enough time to »cannibalize’ his self-made icons in every possible variation in an ironic, self-referential, or commercial way (or all at the same time). Here, too, a similar strategy exists in product marketing, which, in particular, has been successfully implemented by large brands or companies with a single product, such as Coca-Cola for decades: »[E]ven if no new inspiration emanates from an object, it can still be successful because most people do not only want to experience adventure and change, but also familiar sentiments in slight variations over and over again.« 679 Not one particular work, but the overall concept »Andy Warhol™ « or »Damien Hirst™« is bought or regarded as »the artistic«, something which is only evident on each work (sometimes even not at all) through the signature, the consecration with the 'aura of the master’. Warhol and Hirst produced reproductions without originals. Even Jeff Koons stated that it is possible skip the traditional wait for »nobility« through art history, by copying both art history and its mechanisms, even creating mass-produced (consumer/consumable) art 1999 before the museums, through the official channels of neat provenance-development, did this. Koons instead applied methods of marketing, advertising, or public relations to his work (or partially turned them into his main artistic ingredient): Whatever is seen as the center of attention at the end – the exhibition – must above all have great room for interpretation, everything else is accomplished by the artistic mise-en-scene of this particular association shell. Hirst took up this game that was established by Duchamp and Warhol with a sophisticated Koons flair, gave it an update, and pushed it to new heights. Where Koons differs from Hirst is in what they ultimately put on stage, what they want to sell us: »The market value of suffering and death exceeded that of pleasure and sex, [...] that was probably also the reason that Damien Hirst, years before Jeff Koons, gained sole dominance of the word’s art market.«680 679 Ullrich 2006, p. 47. 680 Michel Houellebecq: Karte und Gebiet. Köln 2011, p. 360. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 241 Koons' self ascribed goal is to deliver (potential) buyers/viewers from their fear of kitsch, to indulge their need for the banal without guilt and shame.681 His readymades, inflated in terms of material, production, and size, made of naive and banal kitsch and advertising stand opposite Hirst’s found objects, which he borrowed from supposedly serious science (history), credible religious iconography, and traditional precious materials or, in some cases, advertising that borrows from all three as well. Hirst's equally stereotypical association shells leave the original templates looking less credible, more commercial, yet leave the artworks looking more valuable; Koons’ situation is reversed, although when examined in detail, tendencies in the other direction are observable for both artists, respectively. Advertising »Second-screen snapshot dramas« (»Sekundenbild-Dramen«)682, a term Michael Diers coined for advertising graphics, describes the image and text language to which Hirst refers. He explicitly adapts stereotypes, for instance slogans, clichés, and visual strategies from marketing, advertising and graphic design. Hirst celebrates these last three and appropriates them, only partially putting them in a different, ironic context. His artistic style increasingly resembles the easily consumable, not just visual catch-phrase-language of advertising. By a local shift of context, Hirst subtly points out that even areas that seem unfit for advertising, either because of their form or content, do just that, like the commercial sister of medicine, the pharmacy, or even a museum. The clear, clinically pure and spotless surface of pharmaceutical packaging subtly advertises a product that generally veils (as many objects of art do as well) the fact that it is (also) about commerce, not just about health or l'art pour l'art. Hirst declares the attitude of the consumers towards art and medicine as questionable, but he also encourages it. For Hirst advertising is quoted formally as an »illegitimate sister« of art, with regards to content, even while he keeps it at an ironic distance in his content. e) 681 See Koons interviewed by Anthony Haden-Guest. In: Angelica Muthesius (Ed.): Jeff Koons. Köln 1992, p. 29. 682 Michael Diers: Photografie, Film und Video. Beiträge zu einer kritischen Theorie des Bildes. Hamburg 2006, p. 246. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 242 With Warhol and mass media (that simultaneously inspired him and caught on) art that reflects and was influenced by consumer culture became a mass consumption product. Hirst forced the same for his artworks – albeit with less widespread appeal than Warhol. Both of them earned accusations of commercial sellout. The act of dealing with the subject of consumption, in whatever way, often seems punishable from the perspective of art criticism. In the way that he deals with consumer culture, Hirst reflects the Pop Art of Warhol, who wedded commerce with art and whose images changed contemporary art of the 20th Century by challenging accepted definitions of aesthetics, the role of art, and concepts of originality and reproduction of his time. The Viewer-Buyer and Collector as Perfect Consumer »To me it’s about using the public as a readymade. It’s about the public – what their dreams and ambitions are. To me Andy (Warhol) presented Duchampian ideas in a manner the public was able to embrace.' Koons has said, 'Where I differ is that Warhol believed you could penetrate the mass through distribution and I believe you continue to penetrate the mass with ideas.'683 Jeff Koons, 1991 Hirst's works, meticulously executed by assistants and trimmed to be consumer products, seem to be immediately, substantially ascertainable not only on photo, but prove to be spotless in in-person close-up view to the smallest detail. They communicate primarily with gallery visitors, who should look at the artwork in the original and then acquire it. Communication with viewers of images of his works that are published in the media seems to be secondary. In a consumer society, the alliance between art and commerce represents the long requested postulated connection between art and life, an old idea that was pursued particularly in the 1960 s and 70 s by Situationists, Fluxus, and conceptual artists, who were also rather critical of consumer culture and who influenced Koons and Hirst. Since it is difficult for most contemporary art viewers who are dominated by consumer culture to differentiate bef) 683 Koons interviewed by Anthony Haden-Guest. In: Angelica Muthesius (Ed.): Jeff Koons. Köln 1992, p. 24. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 243 tween »liking and wanting« or somewhat exaggerated, to differentiate between art and life, the creation of museum shops was, according to Grasskamp, almost inevitable: Such a shop »compensated for experiencing the untouchable, canceled the inability to purchase« and responds to the fact that one can expect of »the visitor only a certain number of museum rooms until he is again in a passage of purchasable and touchable things.«684 Artists such as Hirst and his precursors Warhol and Koons realized this and reacted to this buyer/viewer behavior by creating art not for the museum, but for the museum shop or gallery, which is closer to life. In order to examine the connections relevant to consumer culture between pertinent art historical precursors and the two artists discussed here, it is also necessary to consider their sales strategies in more detail, as both areas have become inseparable. The Shop, founded by Haring in the 1980 s, inspired Hirst’s »Other Criteria« chain of stores. Consumption is the great equalizer – both Haring’s and Hirst’s shops had/have products available across all price ranges. The fact that this anti-elitist idea of a store that acts contrary to the traditional art market was developed by Haring, someone who fits between »folk art« graffiti and (high) art, and not by the »art market artists« Warhol and Hirst is not without reason. The connection between goods and art, and art and life is conversely reflected in Hirst through phenomenon of contemporary consumer culture: presenting goods increasingly in an artistic way and art more as a commodity, while simultaneously questioning both concepts and their boundaries. Moreover, the observer (in the present study usually referred to as (potential) buyer/viewer), positioned between art and consumerism, personally moves closer to being/ the state of a human »gesamtkunstwerk« and a consumer product. Therefore, also the 'distracted' mass media consumer who has to constantly look at things en passant, and the 'collective', classic, bourgeois, 'l'art pour l'art' viewer merge only in front of a work of art, which can be bought like a product as well. Along the same lines, Grasskamp wrote: »In the past the concentrated examination of a work as a group only took place in front of a painting or in a concert hall, whereas today this group consideration would more likely take place in front of a department store shelf, in a brand outlet, or in a museum shop, always with an eye on one’s 684 Ibid, p. 151-152. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 244 own wallet. The general director of the art museum in Vienna wrote in a promotional brochure that the items in the museum shop »stimulate the imagination«: the same has been said of art for at least two hundred years.«685 The (potential) buyer/viewer in every art store, gallery, or auction house is also reflected in these artworks, sometimes even literally, when polished gold frames work as a mirror that reminds potential buyers that they are part of a group of people here, who »worship a golden calf ’ together and idolize art as a consumer product, as an investment, or as a fetish. The (potential) buyer/ viewer thus becomes part of Hirst’s artwork. Koons’ works served as inspiration for Hirst’s mirror effects that create connections with other works in the same showroom. The (potential) buyer/viewer leaps to the same level as the works of art that are in the same showroom. Hirst's art happening/auction art is reflected in works and their titles, they are competing with and against each other for the attention of the highest bidder. This reflection has, in addition to the commodification of art consumers, simultaneously the ironic aspiration of closing the gap between art and life by means of consumption. Hirst’s motives, which are always variations of similar things, refer to the activity of collecting through the serialism of his art and the allusions that are typical of his oeuvre, which he uses as a marketing strategy to increase consumption: »In the meantime it is often suggested to consumers that they are actually collectors. It is sufficient to add the words »limited edition« to the package and, with them, the promise of an increase in value. […] This is an equally reliable method of stirring up »Habenwollen«, or the feeling of »must-have«, much like in the competitive environment of an auction [...].«686 Orchestrated art auctions geared towards the media and the active creation of series or collectibles are methods that Hirst not only uses to increase sales but also to reflect consumer culture, so that not the work itself, but its presentation and staging justifiably often count as the truly artistic in Hirst’s art: The theatrical, mise-en-scene presentation of what is in fact just any old consumer product or art object in order to charge it with a symbolic value687, 685 See Wilfried Seipel: Zum Geleit. In: Kunsthistorisches Vienna (Ed.): Shopprodukte. Vienna 2005, p. 2. 686 Ullrich 2006, p. 190. 687 Ibid, p. 122. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 245 with »purposefulness without purpose«688 or »significance with no meaning«689 is a common method taken from advertising and marketing. For Hirst art is an active editing of the art market, which he both exposes and helps to shape. He turns to the principles of the art market. Hirst flooded it with many new works, while at the same time reducing his own offering by allowing series to end. He also intervened in the market by the direct sale of his Golden Calf without going through a middle man, using a work complex that simultaneously conquered new markets while earning him new viewers and buyers. The art market functions for Hirst as a medium for aesthetic changes. Thus Hirst was on the cutting edge: Many successful mobile apps had the same objective – »Cut Out the Middle Man«. At a distance of now nearly a decade it can be said that Hirst has not changed the art market in the long term, for example by other blue chip artists also cutting out the middle man, but that he and his art a(u)ction foresaw that the art market for contemporary art is far from coming to maximum capacity before it might collapse. Also in terms of the changed perception of art the collector assumes a pioneering role: »A collector can only make his mark as an expert in matters of art only through buying a work of art; no arguments or theories are necessary to make someone understand its' inherent value. The price replaces the reasoning behind judgements of taste or value, the act of consuming [...] takes the place of reception.«690 As an ideal form of the (potential) buyer/viewer, an important collector raises the reputation and thus the value of all the other works of the collected artist, who, in turn, creates series for the collector on a large scale. Demand is not dictated by a limited supply from Hirst but rather solely by the price. More will be produced as demand necessitates because Hirst’s images no longer incarnate or embody an idea, but rather illustrate the idea in a way that is reproducible at any time. 691 688 Kant quoted ibid, p. 69. 689 Ullrich 2006, p. 48. 690 Ullrich 2006, p. 191. 691 Stallabrass 2006, p. 101. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 246 (Im-)Material Things Hirst’s art, charged with actual material value in an artistic way, reflects the flight of contemporary beings towards material values, seen as the »last bastion« of credibility, authenticity, and value or perhaps a substitute for such different values. These are constructs that, particularly in the postmodern present, have been/are being played with (though already to some extent in the art of Duchamp or Warhol), the importance of which have continued to increase in both art and life since then. These constructs seek to narrow the gap that grew since the »end of ideology«. Gold and diamonds have a very long history as carriers of value, not only because they are very rare. Hirst exploited/utilized this credibility advantage in his works to his own purposes: He attempts in this way to illustrate that (his) art deserves not only the same amount of credibility, but in fact more credibility than the materials he uses because the material value only serves to enhance the brilliance of the meaningful possibilities of art. To actually find out whether Hirst used valuable materials, one would have to destroy his seemingly precious, relic-like art and undertake a more detailed examination. His works deal on the one hand with the emblematic statement of the material, on the other hand with the confidence in »authenticity«. »It is clear that the examination of the materiality of art leads the specific institutional framing to some paradoxes. In some cases protected by the glass of the display case, but always with a warning sign. The categorical statement is not to touch the objects. We have to believe the testimony of the caption. Material here is only observed at, not touched. We cannot sense its heat, cannot check its weight. The promise of authenticity of materiality cannot be verified in art.«692 Hirst uses money as a medium of expression in his art, but primarily indirectly. His art oscillates between art and money, much like jewelry; Hirst’s art and the consumer product jewelry consist of valuable materials that combine financial and ideal added value: »In other cases, it is a high price in particular that fills the product with more promise. Customers refer to this high price as a confirmation of the power/potency that is latent in a product. Taken to the extreme – as in the case of jewelry or art – the commodity appears to be a g) 692 Schneemann 2002, p. 278. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 247 symbol of money or, even more remarkably, as an enhancement/enhanced form of money.«693 Such products, which include Hirst’s art, »outdo and surpass, in a mix of utility and fictional value, even the fantasies that are evoked by money.«694 The question of where one puts his trust is today rather a question of if one »buys« something, both in the literal sense and figurative sense, if they believe something. Thus, the role of money in a consumer society is brought to light – a role that is fundamentally different from its original: »As soon as the more urgent needs have been met, money is no longer just a functional currency, but rather just as much a stimulant as a loaded brand name product. A brand name article must then be individually so highly evolved that it can stand a chance against the trump-card, money.«695 This is precisely what Hirst attempts to generate artificially/artistically. Combined with religious props in his art, he points to the close link between money and religion, which is expressed as follows by Bolz: »Benjamin consistently construed banknotes as icons of capitalist religion. This makes completely tangible the meaning behind the fact that 17th century emblems returned in the 19th century as consumer goods. As a pure expression of their exchange value, bank notes also pose as allegories.« 696 According to Weber, capitalism was initially integrated into religion and according to Benjamin, it eventually replaced it, Hirst is likewise threatened because of his ambivalent integration of money into his art. ´Money has challenged art, or already replaced in the eyes of many: »The universal symbolism of money is threatening to religion, not as the dramatic and diabolical temptation of Mammon, the golden calf (after all the devil is the dialectic opponent of God; he also requires faith), but rather quite the opposite »in its quiet, rational way as a substitute’«.697 As a young artist, Hirst began in part with Arte Povera materials. Through the course of his career, he moved toward increasingly valuable materials – with the emphasis on the material as a theme throughout. Hirst's animal or human matter are also perceived by the viewer as motif as well in a motivic way. His images are collages made up of material-»pictures«. 693 Ullrich 2006, p. 64. 694 Ibid, p. 61. 695 Ibid, p. 60. 696 Bolz 2002, p. 66. 697 Ibid, p. 71-72. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 248 Both the means of design for (rapid and repeated) reproduction and the final optics of Hirst’s art factory echo mass production. On the one hand, these are cited for practicality and efficiency, on the other hand they are indicative of something else: the paradox between product and artwork, or more specifically inherent in the type of art that looks industrial but at the same time seemingly one of a kind/unique. This condition reflects the role of contemporary art between glossy designer consumer object and the timeless unique piece created by the hand of an artist. »And where is the desire for value and preciousness? Jeff Koons fulfills this desire for us and offers us precious porcelain. [...] The artificially constructed as-if-kitsch offers reflective superficiality, which mirrors the guilt and shame of this desire back at us in golden frames.«698 Hirst has parallels to Duchamp’s later works, the appreciation of which began to grow, not accidentally, in the 1960 s, the Pop Art era. Although the first consumer objects that Duchamp transformed into art by signing them are lost and only survive as intangible memory, replicas, made (not coincidentally) in the 1960 s, which again carry the original spirit through Duchamp’s signature, are now estimated as similarly precious to other comparable world-class art. Duchamp's artistic gesture finally manifested itself in replicas and became also financially valuable. In his case collectors do not buy the artwork itself, only its shadow, relics, the memory of an unsalable gesture. This essentially also applies to the majority of Hirst's works, in the same way shown, in that the works are more performance props disguised as works of art in the gesamtkunstwerk Damien Hirst. In the 1990 s Schulze coined the term Erlebnisgesellschaft (»event-society/thrill-seeking society«), which is characterized by a shift from the value of consumer products in their use and status.699 Duchamp anticipated this »emperor's new clothes« principle in art. Hirst's art is also charged with emotional and mythical value, it draws in art and advertising from other areas, which are already charged with value: Hirst joins forces, as mentioned, with the respectability of science, the advance on secular credibility of religious iconography, the age-old valuation of precious materials or of money to charge his works artificially/artistically with meaning and with value as well as to comment on art. Likewise, Duchamp made both his objets trouvé, 698 Schneemann 2002, p. 288. 699 Gerhard Schulze: Die Erlebnisgesellschaft. Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart. Frankfurt/Main 1992, p. 427. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 249 through his signature, and the »Mona-Lisa Postcard«, reproduced millions of times, through a mustache, into art again. Hirst demonstrates ironically that it is indeed possible to create artificially/artistic (at least monetary) value through a symbolic or actual transfer – he does just this for the sake of discussion. He also cynically presents the belief in (the above elements from other areas and) the respective production by representatives of science, religion, and money as highly questionable and ultimately void. He shows that these people (as he himself also does using their means) ultimately want to sell something. Hirst's art promises the impossible: unlimited mythical (interpretation) possibilities that include and exceed money, 'cultural capital' in two senses: »Like jewelry, art promises to have similar wild card qualities as money. Art has been the only area in the last two hundred years whose value has been determined not by its usefulness but rather its »purposefulness without purpose«. Since the late 18th century, texts on art philosophy have shown a preponderance of adjectives like »inexhaustible«, »multifaceted«, and »inscrutable« to describe the particular characteristics of art – its indeterminacy.«700 Hirst is a child of consumer culture much closer to that than to the classical canon of art. In Duchamp's time, this consumer culture was still in its infancy and served merely as a low level foil, as a provocation. Duchamp, Hirst, and the consumer culture are therefore confronted with similar allegations: »Critics of consumer culture may object that art is but »truly« mysterious and inexhaustible, while branded products [as well as Damien Hirst ™, n. UB], by contrast, represent mere fakes, metaphysical-backdrops without substance. But they overlook the fact that art already functions as a healing entity for several more generations than even the oldest and most prestigious brands. Furthermore, art benefits from an advantage in credibility because not only have the marketing department and advertising agency signed off on an image, but whole hosts of philosophers, art teachers, and gallerists have worked together to agree upon a unified profile after the work of art got a certain amount of attention. Nevertheless, the image that has emerged is just as directed by desires, and also often by commercial interests, as the image of a fine/classy name brand.«701 700 Ullrich 2006, p. 114. 701 Ibid., p. 116. Ulrich Blanché: Damien Hirst. Gallery Art in a Material World 250 Consumption art, on the other hand, which oscillates between art and consumer culture, and consumer culture reflects art and uses its’ rhetoric, can therefore also be confronted with similar allegations or denied artistic character. As is often the case, however, also here the productive question is what everything is and for whom something could be art more so than what it actually is. In Hirst's case, questioning the staging of the brand Hirst is much more fruitful than analyzing a single work. Hirst created not only the brand Damien Hirst, but also, as previously mentioned, uses value creation strategies of consumer culture in his art: the materials and views about faith in science and faith in the value of valuable materials or ancient art, which he incorporated into his art, do in fact have traditional »value« for the majority of people. Baudrillard traces comparable phenomena back to the »end of history«702, that left a void at the same time as consumer culture arose. »The phantasms of a sunken history coalesce in this void, in which the arsenal of incidents, ideologies, and retro-fashions gather – not so much because people believe in it or base any sort of hope in it, but rather simply to provide for a revival of the time in which there was at least history or at least violence […] or at least the risk of life or death.«703 These times full of value that at the time of Duchamp were in part still present yet somehow also a foil, are merely quoted by Hirst in a symbolic and ironic-nostalgic manner, analogous to the consumer culture; also »[t]he consumer culture is [...] at a level that one might, with Hegel, call »symbolic. «704, says Ullrich. An art reflecting this consumer culture (as in the case of Hirst) like consumer culture (that influenced its time significantly in terms of content and form) often does not exceed an ironic-critical or affirmative (distorting) mirroring of signs. As part of a consumer society today, it might also be difficult for the contemporary viewer to accept/understand Hirst‘s (anti?) consumer culture works as art – like the works of Duchamp, who in his time used the bourgeois 19th century, coined by the art academies, as a contrast/imaginary background for his work. 702 Francis Fukuyama: The end of history? In: The National Interest. Summer 1989. 703 Baudrillard 1978, p. 50. 704 Ullrich 2006, p. 202. 6) Artistic strategies for Dealing with Consumer Phenomena (Conclusion) 251

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Damien Hirst constantly faces the accusation that he creates merely popular, salable, or easily consumable art. However, this accusation of “selling out” is closely linked to the great popularity that he enjoys. Discussions about the aesthetic value of art and the importance of consumer culture are incorporated into his works and highlight how the artist has been able to exemplify the consumer culture of our age. This study analyzes works from different periods of his oeuvre, such as the “Natural History” series, the Spot Paintings, the “Diamond Skull“, and Hirst’s collaborations with Street Artist Banksy. They are examined in the context of materials, iconography, and history of ideas with regard to their framing of consumer culture. This is one of few books on Hirst not published by the artist himself or under his influence. In this academic study, Ulrich Blanché also gives a compact overview of the Young British Artists in London in the 1990s.