Friday, 14 February 2014

Laughing all the way to the bank

Valium, by Damien Hirst

People seem to have been getting into a grand old funk over Damien Hirst’s claim that he copies his children’s paintings and drawings.

Well, this was certainly the case at the Observer and at the Telegraph, in response to Hirst’s claim in an interview with the former.

At the Obs, the whinging was mostly about his being ‘a corporate whore’, while over at the Telegraph, comments concentrated on most of his own art resembling the contents of used nappies.

Don’t you just lurve reasoned debate?

As Will Gompertz explained at some length in What Are You Looking At? that no, your five-year-old could not have produced even the works of modern art that you find utterly incomprehensible.

You might think that a Mondrian, for instance, is simple or that Pollock simply dripped, but actually executing such a piece is a damned sight harder than many imagine.

Now to be quite clear, I’m not personally a fan of Hirst’s work, but he’s clever – not least in being able to exploit the market for whatever is deemed to be ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’ art among those who have more money than sense.

It was all encouraged in the halcyon days of the 1980s by the dear old Saatchis, who set out to prescribe what was cool – and, most importantly, to profit from it.

These are the same Saatchis who now routinely use Facebook to tell people that they can suggest new artists whose work would be worth investing in.

Buy them and the price will go up, of course, as they then become collectible. And the Saatchis will themselves make plenty of money from you taking their advice.

Oddly, none of the painters currently being touted by them seem to have chosen to represent a man appearing to throttle his wife.

But there’s an element of the emperor’s new clothes in all this: I’ve little doubt that, as he’s laughing all the way to the bank, Hirst is also laughing at those who pay millions for a piece that someone in his studio has produced to his instructions – based on something his children did, if we’re to believe his somewhat faux humility.

Indeed, never mind that fairytale – there’s always the classic modern art story of Marcel Duchamp and his urinal, a piece of ‘made’ art that was used entirely to extract the piss out of a group of self-appointed arbiters of what was and was not art – and in the process, itself became iconic and labelled ‘art’.

This is not a real Lowry
In the past, it would be the patron – often the church – who, in effect, made such decisions, but that has broadened out over the years, helped by, among other things, public galleries and exhibitions and also increasing numbers of people with disposable incomes and a desire to decorate their homes.

Mind, the likes of Hirst are not the only ones taking the proverbial out of people.

In a prime example of fools and cash being easily parted, the Facebook page for LS Lowry warned against a spate of fakes that are being sold on eBay.

They highlighted one in particular, which was secured with a bid of £670. Let’s allow for someone being a bit taken in by the background, but the figure? And just look at that face!

Beyond that, look at the signature – and it’s easy enough to Google the authentic signature. That’s not close.

Away from cyberspace, the Telegraph reported on 82-year-old Bill Harbord, a London man who has been selling fakes for years – although at rather lower prices.

It’s difficult to feel particularly sorry for anyone all those who have bought a picture from Mr Harbord. Honestly – be sensible: it’s really not very unlikely that you'll find a genuine Raoul Dufy painting for £250.

Actually, it’s tempting to laugh in much the same way you’ll possibly laugh at those who spend hundreds of thousands on a Damien Hirst because they’ve been told it’s good.

If you’re going to buy art by a well-known figure, make sure you know who you’re buying it from – a gallery will be a safer bet, for instance – and accustom yourself with the artist in question’s work, signature, any numbering system etc.

It’s not difficult – and it’s not rocket science.

If you do want to feel for someone, though, spare a thought for Martin Lang, who spent £100,000 on what he thought was an original Chagall.

Searching for authentification, it was sent to the Chagall Committee in Paris, which decided it was a fake and that it should thus be destroyed under French law.

Mr Lang wants it back – he’s still waiting to see if they’ll mark at as a forgery and send it back to him.

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