…does that make me one too? Er, no.
Self – Bacon Hirst Koons Picasso at Ordovas in Cork St
By hanging one work alongside another in a high end gallery it is clearly implied that the artists are of equal stature. Perhaps for some Jeff Koons is the equal of Picasso, and Damien Hirst is of the same stature as Francis Bacon. The blurb talks of ‘Four of the greatest artists of the 20th Century’. I am not convinced.
What is on show here is actually the yawning chasm between art and anti-art. There are five self portraits on show – two by Hirst, one by each of the others. Picasso’s is the best (you knew that already didn’t you?), at sketch for the wonderful ‘Yo Picasso’ from the first flowering of his youth in Paris in 1901. This is a work so full of life, energy, dynamism, flair…Spanish passion mingling with French sophistication. This is a Life being Lived.
The Bacon is a fairly middling specimen by comparison. From 1969, it is interesting but seems to be missing the other two thirds to make it into one of the triptychs of which Bacon was so fond. Looking at one single image I think I know why he liked them. Fascinated as he was by movement, the three panels are just enough to suggest the frames of a film or the sequential photos of Muybridge. With three paintings your attention is divided between theme and the sliding and abraded flesh seems alive. Here the single image does not have this power, but it is still commanding.
The Hirst images are a photo of himself as a grinning teenager in an anatomy museum with a severed head, and an X-ray of his skull. They are essentially mute. They represent a decision to not portray, to hide behind a camera. There is a tragic emptiness here, but it is one of impotence. Being hung alongside Picasso does not flatter him
The Jeff Koons work is a marble bust of himself in the sort of style that would suit a North Korean leader, but with more emphasis on the nipples. It is idealised to an absurd degree which we are presumably meant to find ironic. He is shown as if ascending to an imaginary heaven, the sort of heaven children imagine their pets going to. It is pretty nauseating really. And doubtless fabricated by a team of ludicrously skilled sculptors, who are no longer the artists.
Here is the crux of it – the hand is no longer the artist’s hand. If you can accept this you have a chance at being able to accept contemporary and (post) conceptual work. Anyone who has paintings that Damien Hirst painted himself knows that it was a penance for him – to purge himself of his feelings of unworthiness at his hand’s inability to do his mind’s will. Merely another layer of desperate narcissism that gallerists and critics would no doubt describe as a ‘strategy’.
This gallery seems able to field museum quality pieces, and is always worth looking into. I suppose not everyone will have enjoyed the Auerbach/Rembrandt juxtaposition either. But that seemed worthwhile to me. Not least because Frank is almost too aware of his artistic forbears and is in a constant dialogue with them in his work. Koons and Hirst represent the scorched earth policy of contemporary art – we are asked to believe that they sprang fully formed into the world to save our artistic souls from work with actual content.
Koons is the art world equivalent of artificial sweeteners – the illusion of taste, but with no nutritional value whatever.