Damien hirst

The joy of hanging out with artists

Lynn Barber is known as a distinguished journalist, but what she always wanted to do was hang out with artists. This book feels like a marvellous cocktail party, packed with the painters and sculptors Barber has interviewed over the years: Howard Hodgkin, Phyllida Barlow, Grayson Perry, Maggi Hambling. Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin eye one another warily from opposite sides of the room; Salvador Dali’s ocelot weaves between the guests; everyone, naturally, is smoking. Lucian Freud is a no-show – though having refused Barber’s many interview requests, he did send a scrawled note explaining he had no wish to ‘be shat upon by a stranger’. Feuds and gossip are the

The hellraisers of Hoxton: Art, by Peter Carty, reviewed

Those one-time hellraisers the Young British Artists are today more likely to be found making noise complaints to the local council than sliding down the bannisters at the Groucho Club. But in his part-historical, part-satirical, part-autobiographical debut novel Art, Peter Carty returns to their heyday as he charts the birth of the movement that shook up the art world in the early 1990s. The setting is a now unrecognisable Hoxton and Shoreditch, devoid of puppy yoga studios and oat milk lattes. In the opening chapter, the principal characters meet in a grimy old pub to celebrate a private view at the nearby gallery, Idiot Savant. Here they discuss the most

She’s pop’s Damien Hirst: Beyoncé’s Renaissance reviewed

You feel a little sorry for Renaissance, the first solo album by Beyoncé in more than six years. It just wants to dance, but will anybody let it? Such are the claims made for the singer as a cultural figure – superwoman, warrior queen, saviour of Black America – that everything she does carries a weight of expectation which would crush granite, let alone a pop record. The songs on her last album, Lemonade, released in 2016, spun out from the infidelity of her husband, Jay-Z, linking a personal breach of trust to fissures in her family history and racial divides in the United States, past and present. It was

Has the bubble burst?

I always suspected I disliked Jeff Koons, until I saw one of his monumental pieces at Frieze London a few years ago. Then it was confirmed. Cynicism seemed to ooze out of every millimetre of his vast, shiny sculpture. It was vividly apparent that this artwork wasn’t about beauty or transcendence or emotion. It was about money. Don Thompson’s The Orange Balloon Dog (the title is taken from the name of a Koons piece) is ostensibly about the contemporary art market. He details recent auctions, using the autumn 2014 sales — where buyers spent $1.7 billion in two days at Sotheby’s and Christie’s — as his starting point. But, as

Fickle fortune | 21 September 2017

Here’s an intriguing thought experiment: could Damien Hirst disappear? By that I mean not the 52-year-old artist himself — that would be sensational indeed — but the vast fame, the huge prices, the hectares of newsprint, profiles, reviews and interviews by the thousand. Could all that just fade from our collective memory into a black hole of oblivion? The answer is: yes, quite easily. Artists vanish all the time. Take the case of Hans Makart (1840–1884). He was a contemporary of Monet, Manet and Degas, but enormously more acclaimed in his lifetime than any of those. A period of Viennese life was dubbed the ‘Makart era’, a fashionable idiom was

Pleasure boats

There isn’t a luxury ship that wouldn’t look better for having sunk. Barnacles and rot bring such romance to the lines, like spider webs in the sea. Even the decay Damien Hirst has applied to his Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is quite appealing. It crawls over many of the objects that he claims to have salvaged from a shipwreck of the 1st or 2nd century ad. A mouldering Mickey Mouse. A bronze portrait of the artist encrusted in faux-coral. It’s Trimalchio meets Disneyland meets Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It so happens that Hirst’s exhibition at the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi in Venice (until

Perhaps Michael Gove should get the Turner Prize

It is a week where you’d imagine most British politicians would be occupied by the Supreme Court ruling over Brexit. But late last night and in the early hours of this, two members of the last government found time for a spat about art on Twitter. Former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said the Turner Prize had ‘nothingtodowithJMWTurnersgenius’ and that contemporary art was basically all ‘#modishcrap’, showing off his art expertise by misspelling winner Helen Marten’s name. Former arts minister Ed Vaizey stood up for the prize, and acknowledged that ‘brilliant’ contemporary artists could and did exist. The argument, of course, is an old one: older than the Turner

Skinny dipping

For a 21st-century gallery, a Victorian collection can be an embarrassment. Tate Modern got around the problem by offloading its Victoriana on to Tate Britain, but York Art Gallery decided to make the best of it. As the birthplace of William Etty, York found itself lumbered with a major collection of work by a minor Victorian artist whose reputation nosedived after his death. While Etty’s statue still dominates the gallery forecourt, most of his paintings languish in the stores. For contemporary audiences, though, he has a USP. An avid frequenter of the life room, Etty acquired a mastery of flesh tones and a penchant for painting nudes that many of

Easy to swallow

Pharmacy 2 is the reanimated child of Damien Hirst; it lives inside the Newport Street Gallery in a forsaken patch of Lambeth by the railway arches. This makes it look, inevitably, like the set of The Bill, but with a painting of Damien Hirst on a nearby wall, which would surely confuse the Bill. Pharmacy 1 was, for five years until 2003, in Notting Hill. So we are already doing better. It is said that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain complained about Pharmacy 1, and worried it would confuse people looking for a real pharmacy, but I do not know if this was true. If it was, they were too stupid

M.C. Escher: limited, repetitive, but he deserves a place in art history

‘Surely,’ mused the Dutch artist M.C. Escher, ‘it is a bit absurd to draw a few lines and then claim: “This is a house.”’ He made a good point. That is what almost all artists since the days of Lascaux have done: put down some splodges of paint or a line or two and proclaimed, ‘This is a bison’, ‘This is a man’, ‘This is Mona Lisa’. One of the aims of Escher’s work, which is currently displayed in an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, was to undermine such pretensions to represent reality. At first glance, his images often seem meticulously, even aridly factual. ‘Still Life with Mirror, March 1934’

Thinking inside the box

Someone once asked Joseph Cornell who was his favourite abstract artist of his time. It was a perfectly reasonable question to put to a man who numbered Piet Mondrian, as well as other masters of modernism, among his acquaintance. But, characteristically, Cornell veered off at a tangent. ‘What’, he replied, ‘do you mean “my time”?’ In its way it’s a good response, as the exhibition at the Royal Academy, Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust, makes clear. The subtitle of the show refers to travel in mental space. In mundane reality, Cornell (1903– 72) seldom left New York City, and never ventured further afield than Maine. But in his imagination, he journeyed across

Max Hastings’s diary: The joys of middle age, and Prince Charles’s strange letters

I am living in rustic seclusion while writing a book. Our only cultural outing of the week was to Newbury cinema to see, transmitted from the National Theatre, Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, object of rave reviews. We respected the piece but did not enjoy it. Granted, appreciation of all major works of art requires an effort by the viewer, listener, reader. But a pleasure of getting older is to be unafraid of waving the white flag. We resist modern-dress Shakespeare or worse, opera. We will cross continents to avoid the music of Harrison Birtwistle or the art of Damien Hirst. We are ardent Trollopeians, incorrigibly middlebrow. John

Drink, drugs and dressing-up: behind the scenes of the fashion industry

It’s a curious subject, fashion, and those who write about it rarely want to jeopardise future access to it on the altar of clear-eyed analysis. The business must pretend that there is a single genius at work here, whose vision creates not just clothes but the things that actually make the money. The catwalk shows are all very well, but they haven’t been the main business for decades, and it came as rather a surprise to the industry when a great mob of new customers emerged from nowhere, the wives of Russian oligarchs and American hedgefund traders, willing to spend six-figure sums every season on a new wardrobe. The primary

Frieze Art Fair: where great refinement meets harrowing vulgarity

If you wanted to find a middle-aged man in a bright orange suit, matching tie and sneakers, Frieze is a good place to start looking. I found one. Or maybe he was a limited edition existing in several reproductions. Certainly, he was frequently spotted: conspiratorial of aspect, he was stooped and crouched over a mobile with body language saying ‘serious business’. I overheard: ‘Ah, Corinna. Va bene? How are prices in Zurigo?’ Long before you reach Frieze’s vast tented sites in Regent’s Park there are signs of danger. Extraordinary shoes and statement hair and rucked-up skinny trousers start appearing in a fall-out zone about half a mile away from the

Is John Hoyland the new Turner?

What happens to an artist’s reputation when he dies? Traditionally, there was a period of cooling off when the reputation, established during a lifetime, lost momentum and frequently collapsed, quite often presaging a long fallow period before reassessment could take place. The Pre-Raphaelites suffered this to a very pronounced degree. Famously, Andrew Lloyd Webber tells the story of buying his first Victorian pictures for pocket money in junk shops, and just missing Lord Leighton’s ‘Flaming June’ because he didn’t have the £50 asking price. Closer to our own time, when Graham Sutherland died in 1980 his reputation plummeted terribly, having for years been overinflated by a loyal European market that

When Francis Davison made me judge — and burn — his art

In 1983, Damien Hirst saw an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery of the collages of Francis Davison which ‘blew him away’. He spent the next two years trying to emulate them, in vain. As he discovered, although Davison’s works might look casually thrown together, they are in fact immaculately crafted orchestrations of colour, shape and tone.  In the light of this experience, Hirst’s subsequent output can be regarded as his dispiriting revenge on all genuine artistic creation. This surprising connection between modern British art’s most self-effacing aesthete and its most successful self-publicist merits analysis, not only because it’s so indicative of the state of current artistic values, but because it

Letters | 23 May 2013

Stay Conservative Sir: Dr John Hyder-Wilson wrote (Letters, 11 May) of my calls to ‘shift Tory party policy rightward’ to meet a threat from Ukip, which he felt was inconsistent as he could not remember me advocating a leftward shift in response to a threat from the SDP/Alliance in the early 1980s. Of course he could not. I am afraid that he is in a muddle. I responded then to the SDP/Alliance, and would do so now to Ukip in exactly the same way, by advocating Conservative policies for the Conservative party. As Dr Hyder-Wilson may remember, Margaret Thatcher won her third election victory on Conservative policies after eight years

Desert Island Discs: is there nothing behind Damien Hirst’s dead cows, sharks and dots? Jan Morris: Travels Round My House — the scoop to outscoop all others

What was shocking about Damien Hirst’s appearance on Desert Island Discs on Sunday was not his admission on air that he lost his £20,000 Turner Prize cheque, and then discovered he had spent it all in the Groucho Club bar. Or his account of his early teens drinking cider beneath the pylons, shoplifting, burgling, always in trouble. A boy for whom ‘Crime is creative’. No, what was truly surprising was just how predictable are his thoughts about his art, his success, his place in the cultural life of GB. Hirst gave very little away, but not in an intriguing, there must be more going on underneath kind of way. The