"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

07 October, 2008

Reading the Runes: Damien Hirst, the new Saatchi Gallery & what Market Turmoil means for the Art Market

Yue Minjun: this image copyright Arario Gallery; all rights reserved

Not that long ago, my personal party trick to engineer sudden & stunned silence at any boring West London dinner was to announce that: “Harry Potter was derivative, simplistic, poorly written, sub-C.S. Lewis drivel”. Believe me - for many months, nay – years, even, it was completely & utterly effective.

More recently, a good way of poking the hornets’ nest, particularly at any inter-generational gathering, has been to mention the name of the particular black beast that is Damien Hirst. Please! Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I think Hirst is extremely, extraordinarily, preter-naturally, clever, a more than worthy Warhol de nos jours.

My other half, on the other hand, thinks the boy Damien is just brilliant and I now fear he might possibly kill to have even one of the most mundane spotty paintings on the wall in our downstairs loo. Together, we debated the myriad merits of the Boy Hirst, as we meandered around ArtLondon last Saturday, held this last weekend in the august confines of Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital in Chelsea (London, England).

We actually queued with sundry other "art lovers" to get in at 10.55am; yet, if we hadn’t had free tickets (courtesy of a gallery from which we long ago bought a small print) would we even have bothered? All of these newish London “art fairs” have suffered in all sorts of ways lately, particularly since the initial sheen of most of the YBAs has inevitably dulled & the credit crunch has meant that £30, including catalogue, for two adults to wander round a chilly marquee, looking at poorly hung pictures, seems rather less attractive than a hearty meal at the local Italian.

Roman Black Gallery were showing one or two of Damien’s Skulls & Butterflies, but, alas, they were beyond our budget. Perhaps they were hoping to ride the tidal bore of the recent, and now notorious, Sotheby’s 15th September £111m Hirst sale which, with 20-20 hindsight, it appears, managed to pip global financial meltdown?

What may or may not be happening in the art market is well worth a look, given that ‘art’ is now – (with a CNN-estimated annual $4 billion turnover) the biggest legal global economy which is still fundamentally unregulated......

An indication of art market resilience emerged last weekend at Sotheby’s recent Hong Kong auction, the biggest art sale since the credit crisis started. Unsurprisingly, sales were far less robust than expected, with most buyers opting for cheaper artists and earlier works; many lots by top Chinese names even failed to sell.

A 1990-1991 untitled oil scene of Tiananmen Square by Yue Minjun (see above) fetched HK$6.6m - yet two works by Zhang Xiaogang and key lots by Zeng Fanzhi all went unsold. Conversely, on Saturday, Indonesian artist I Nyoman Masriadi's ‘Sorry Hero, Saya Lupa’ - featuring Superman and Batman - fetched HK$4.8m, eight times its pre-sale estimate - a record for Southeast Asian art.

Charles Saatchi has, to date, managed to remain well ahead of the art market game. It will be interesting to see whether his newest exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at the latest incarnation of the eponymous Gallery, moved from St Johns Wood, to Lambeth, and now to Chelsea SW3, catches the Zeitgeist.

The following link takes you to Waldemar Januszczak’s interesting perspective on the new gallery & the state of contemporary Chinese art -