Thursday, December 11, 2008

shine on you crazy diamond...

How does one put a price tag on anything? Besides the cost of the raw materials that comprise of any given object and the necessary markup, there are all types of factors such as supply, prestige, goodwill, etc. that conflate prices. One of the biggest challenges for any artist is placing a price tag on their work that is considered "fair" for both parties. I say f*ck fair! My business degree has taught me that the prices of most things are so subjective, and even more so in the art world. Plenty of the most successful artists, from Titian to Reubens to Velasquez, Warhol and Murakami have utilized assistants to increase production output, only signing the finished artwork. 

Damien Hirst, 42, may well be the world’s richest artist, however it is debatable how much he actually is involved with his actual product. As the highest-priced living artist (his most expensive piece selling for approx. 100 million usd), wouldnt an individual purchasing his work want the actual craftsmanship of the artist, rather than those of assistances and interns? While most of his money comes from the sale of artwork, Mr. Hirst has a company, Other Criteria, that licenses his imagery, creates products, and sells them on the Web. In addition to Hirst’s own prints, editions, books, posters, and T-shirts, the company markets the wares of other artists. And this is just one piece of an umbrella corporation, Science Ltd., that oversees Hirst’s vast studios, 120 employees, and other business interests.

This past summer (2008) Damien Hirst officially became the world’s most expensive living artist both at auction and in the gallery, bypassing even long-established greats like Jasper Johns. In June, Sotheby’s London sold Hirst’s Lullaby Spring, a 2002 medicine cabinet filled with hand-painted pills, for £9.65 million ($19.3 million), superseding Johns’s auction record for a living artist. But that’s nothing compared with the £50 million ($100 million) price on For the Love of God (2007), Hirst’s diamond-encrusted platinum skull, which London’s White Cube gallery sold in August, reportedly to a consortium that included the artist himself. 

Hirst's work is an examination of the processes of life and death: the ironies, falsehoods and desires that we mobilise to negotiate our own alienation and mortality. His production can be roughly grouped into three areas: paintings, cabinet sculptures and the glass tank pieces. The paintings divide into spot and spin paintings. The former are randomly organised, color-spotted canvases with titles that refer to pharmaceutical chemicals. The spin paintings are 'painted' on a spinning table, so that each individual work is created through centrifugal force.

Hirst recently stated, "If I want to sell new work, I'll price it lower. If people have got less money, you can either just shut your door and say, 'Screw everybody', or I can wait until everyone can afford my work or price it cheaper." Thus, you can't measure the success of Damien Hirst with traditional concepts of art world success. After all, Hirst is exploring different markets in order to sustain his art dynasty, so to speak.

Value is defined as the degree of usefulness or desirability of something, especially in comparison with other things. However, what is useful to someone does not have to be equally useful to somebody else. In that respect, “value is in the eye of the beholder.” Furthermore, what is useful in one context does not have to be useful in another context. So value is, by its very definition, subjective. Is a Hirst piece worth the money? Is a Picasso? Is a Renoir? Is anything worth what is paid for it? How would you value a $300 pair of jeans if you were hungry? Or sick? Or stranded on a desert island? Perhaps not much. In the end, art is composed of materials...plastics, canvas, paint, staples and little else. The value-added is the skill and the intangibles of the artist. I am not fortunate to have assistants but I have learned one thing: never to feel like i have sold myself short.

"But the answer to how to live is to stop thinking about it. And just to live. But you're doing that anyway. However you intellectualise it, you still just live"

~Damien Hirst

No comments: