02 October 2007

A suitably finite shelf life

Another mediocratic business model, apparently not adequately thought through. The Financial Times reports that works by Mr Damien Hirst are suffering deterioration. It seems that insufficient attention was paid to whether the art in question would maintain its condition over time.

One of Damien Hirst’s most famous sculptures, Mother and Child Divided — an installation of a bisected cow and calf preserved in formaldehyde — is leaking and is to return to the artist’s studio for repairs. ... the museum’s director said the damage appeared to be caused by a flaw in the glass, resulting in the loss of some formaldehyde.


Or is it possible we are dealing with a case of planned obsolescence?
It is not the first time one of Mr Hirst’s formaldehyde pieces has had maintenance problems. Last year it was reported that his notorious work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which depicted a shark in a tank, was also in trouble. The work, bought by the American collector Steve Cohen for a reported £6.5m three years ago, had deteriorated significantly since its unveiling in 1992. The chemical solution surrounding the shark had become murky, and the animal itself had changed shape.
Lower quality standards in art production are consistent with an ethos of cutting corners and 'today — jam; tomorrow — whatever', a.k.a. mediocracy. As such, this phenomenon has interesting parallels with banking, civil liberties and various other models built on similarly dodgy foundations.

Art insurance expert Charles Dupplin has written to the FT, sounding concerned:
Sir, The leak of one of Damien Hirst's best-known installations ... raises a huge issue for contemporary art collectors everywhere. Many iconic works of contemporary art are inherently less durable and this is something that collectors need to think about carefully. Items such as Tracey Emin’s bed and the frozen blood in Marc Quinn's Self sculpture are all at risk simply due to the march of time.
How unexpected.
Some contemporary artists purposely produce work with a short life span ...
How can those demmed artistes be so cynical?
... and this raises significant questions for collectors and how their pieces can be insured. Natural ageing is not something insurers will ever cover. To date there does not seem to have been any consideration of these issues being reflected in the value of objects prone to ageing problems.
Strange, isn't it.
The Hirst leak will at least bring the topic up for debate. I for one believe that the art world will begin to think about these issues much more seriously in the future.
Hmm. You mean, like British and American governments will (post subprime, Northern Rock etc.) begin to think much more seriously about whether private and public sector debt booms are prone to 'ageing problems'?

The tone of Mr Dupplin's plaint strikes me as a bit naive. Does he not realise that one of the key themes which contemporary art seeks to express is the arbitrary, contingent and evanescent nature of creation? And that bourgeois concepts such as permanence and durability are as out of place in art as they are in architecture?