artist(s) of the day: Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst

today’s entry comes from a friend of mine. not sure whether or not he meant for me to take it in this direction, but he sent me the following thoughts, and being that I didn’t get around to writing about any particular artists today, it seems fitting to me. I told him I wouldn’t give him any credit and I would only mock all of his ancestors, but what can I say, I’m a sweet guy. Enjoy these thoughts from my good friend John Spinella


Since the Artist of the Day seems to center on living artist, there are two current superstars of the contemporary art world that I have an extremely ambivalent relationship with – Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.  In some senses I almost hate them, but I can’t stop paying attention to them.  What does this say about them?  To be fair, “hate” is a strong word, and said hatred is more pointed toward Mr. Hirst, specifically for moral reasons.  Anyone could easily say that both of these artists challenge the philosophy of what makes art, well, art.  But, personally, I don’t think that, most of the time, that’s what they’re even trying to do.

Koons is easier to enjoy.  Or, at least, pay attention to without too much frustration.  I’d say he’s most famous for his metallic sculptures that look like balloon animals (and most infamous for his series of pornographic images of him fucking his then-wife/Hungarian porn star).  He claims his work has absolutely no meaning whatsoever, that it’s essentially pop art.  Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that they really don’t, as plenty of artists through time have stated such things and were full of shit (I always think of filmmakers like Fritz Lang and John Ford when I hear statements like this, who said such things all the time).  But, if you want to take him for his word, then observing his art is simply left to centralized visual stimulation and, of course, the quality and merit of its craft.  Regarding craft, his work is undeniably excellent – those balloon animals really do look like balloon animals, despite the fact that they’re made of metal.  But here’s something that will throw you off – his works are made by studio workshops.  There are pieces of his that Koons himself has said he never created a single inch of.  Now, workshops have been around since the Renaissance, but justly for more logical reasons back then.  Michelangelo had his own workshop of fellow artists help him complete the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but, realistically, if he had painted that ceiling solo it would’ve taken an entire lifetime (even with an full team it took him 4 years).  Koons comes up with an idea and has someone else execute it.  He states his art has no meaning, so then what value do these “ideas” of his hold?  As I stated before, pop art is solely about cosmetic aesthetics, and I have no problem with this fact.  Such aesthetics can stimulate the mind endlessly.  But if you’re not even the craftsman created the craft, what are you?
My beef with Damien Hirst (probably best known for his platinum coated human skull covered with diamonds), on the other hand, regards morals rather than intellectual argumentatives.  I’ll get to the point: the man kills animals to make his art, and this really does anger me.  For one of his pieces, he killed a shark, suspended it in a tank, and said “Ta-dah!  It’s art!”.  To all the haters he simply gave the childish argument, “Well, you didn’t think of it.”  He didn’t kill the shark himself either.  Rather, he hired a fisherman to go out, kill one, and bring it back to him.  Perhaps he could have used some symbolic mumbo-jumbo of his struggles of going out and conquering the animal, but unfortunately he was just sitting comfortably at home while someone else took care of the dirty work.  To make matters worse, he did it twice.  The original started falling apart (for obvious reasons), so he had a second shark killed.  The work was displayed at the Met for many years, and had only recently disappeared the last time I went to see you.  Like Koons, he constantly challenges viewers to wonder what makes art art, which is something I like (and is why Marcel Duchamp is my favorite 20th century artist – he pioneered such ideas).  But unfortunately I don’t think he does this consciously.  I think he shares a common quality with the art snobs of the world – he, along with them, think that something he made is art just because he made it.  This idea was challenged with his dead shark piece – a fishing shop had a dead shark that they had caught displayed in their front window, and it was there long before Hirst had created his own piece.  Their question was: how come his is art and ours isn’t?  Simply because he said his was?  It’s a good question.