Why it is time for British art to leave its bad boy behind.
LONDON – “Isn’t it a miracle what so much money and so little ability can produce,” late art critic Robert Hughes once said of Damien Hirst’s statue The Virgin Mother.
A new miracle, called “Verity,” now stands -- all 20 meters and 25 tons of it -- overlooking the Bristol Channel for local residents and visitors to the port of Ilfracombe to behold.
The bronze statue depicts a pregnant woman, the right side of whose body is skinless thus revealing the fatty tissues of a breast, muscles and tendons, and half of the unborn baby she is carrying. Unlike "The Virgin Mother," this pregnant woman holds a sword in her left hand, pointed at the North Devon sky.
This pathetic gesture seems to mark a wish on the part of Hirst to become some kind of official state artist – indeed, a good location for "Verity" would have been near the atrocious new Bomber Command Memorial at London’s Hyde Park Corner.
As Guardiancritic Jonathan Jones points out, Hirst’s dangerously monstrous, pretentious piece of kitsch is reminiscent of “the huge female figure that crowns the Stalingrad memorial” – a monument in Volgograd, Russia, commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad.
A dark age
“Hirst made modern British art, and he has destroyed it. Don't you understand? This time is going to be remembered as what Hirst is making it, with his bronze statues and hideous daubs – a dark age for British art,” Jones writes.
It’s a gloomy point of view. And while Hirst is without a doubt the most ingenious self-marketer since Andy Warhol, to give him the central position in British contemporary art is not only defeatist – it’s wrong.
There are enough artists in his generation -- Liam Gillick, Rachel Whiteread, Jeremy Deller, to name just three – to fill that position. That their names are perhaps less well known than that of the consummate PR strategist and crafty businessman that is Hirst, is irrelevant.
What’s more, the British art scene has for years been producing young artists for whom neither Damien Hirst nor his generation are a gauge or a model. History continues with them. Which doesn’t change the verdict about Hirst that many reached well before "Verity" was installed in Ilfracombe: he can no longer be taken seriously as an artist.