Category Archives: auctions

>LMAO: In praise of the (con) artist.


I have recently written about lunacy in the political world (lots to write about) and lunacy in the education world (ditto), so why not turn to the wacky world of fine art. I have to confess that when it comes to knowledge of fine art, I belong to the I-know-what-I-like-when-I-see-it school of artistic appreciation. So, the art snobs can dismiss me immediately as an unsophisticated oaf. That is ok because I think a lot of them are pseudo-sophisticated, low self esteem elitists.

Case in point.

Just recently, Sotheby’s Auction House sold the works of guy named Damien Hirst. I never heard of this guy, which should come as no surprise. But, I love him. Oh! Not for his art. That’s the lunacy. But for his extraordinary achievement in making fools of snobby art connoisseurs – AND making a lot of money in the process.

You see, I think a lot of modern art is simply … hmmm … trash. It’s just a bunch of no-talent pseudo-art. Not even good enough to be “pseudo.” Hirst makes no pretense at being an artist. None whatsoever. That is the beauty of it. He is actually anti art — you might say a (con) artist.

A lot of modern art exists because of a perfect marriage between (con) artists and the new age art collectors. The artists want money – lots of it – for very little work and creativity. The money bag collectors want to show off their wealth and get their names on public galleries full of this crap.

Here is my theory. What better way to show off one’s obnoxious wealth than to be able to spend enormous amounts on things of no value, artistic or otherwise. I saw this in the antique business. (Yeah, I once owned an antique shop.) There were three types of customers. Those who looked at the price tag, and slapped down the money. Those who negotiated a better price, and then would brag to friends what a “bargain’ they got. And, believe it or not, those who actually preferred to overpay for things so they could brag how much they spent on the item. Texas seems to have a lot of the latter.

I am not talking about the difference between a Lamborghini and a Saturn. Some things are just better made and have greater real value. I’m talking about the person who announces, and usually very loudly, “This here cigar I am smoking cost me $950 smackaroos.” Or, “Take a sip of this (yucky) wine. Cost me $12,000 a bottle. I bought a case.”

These are the folks who spend hundreds of dollars for a $5 tie or $8 t-shirt because it has the name Versace on it. I mean, it’s not even personally autographed. The name is stitched on by a fifty cents an hour worker in Asia – where, incidentally, you can buy all the “Versace” ties you want at the street markets for about a buck a pop. Some even have the name spelled correctly.

The value of such “status symbols” is just that. Showing off that the purchaser can afford to pay extraordinary amounts of money for things of modest real market value. It’s the same thing as dropping $500 tips for a $100 meal. It’s just a means of showing off. The greater the differential between the true market value and the amount paid, the greater the ego fulfillment – the bragging power. It is their way to flex their money muscles on the Venice Beach of life.

Oh yeah! Art. In the Hirst case, they are paying ENORMOUS amounts for almost nothing of value. THAT is power. Hirst merely provides them with the opportunity to show off their wealth. In return, they provide Hirst with tons of money for dubious art.

Let me be more specific.

Recently this guy Hirst put a lot of his “works” up for auction. Someone paid $18.6 million for a dead bull in formaldehyde with a gilted thing-of-a-jig on its head (above right). What taxidermist would not stuff that late bovine for a lot less? It looks like something that should be on display at the Indiana State Fair instead of a metropolitan museum.

But Hirst is not a one trick scammer. No. No. No. He also sells pressed butterflies for millions of dollars. I used to collect butterflies myself – and framed them. It appears I may have pitched away about $6 million worth of the winged beauties – at least at Hirst rates.

But, as they say on those ubiquitous television ads – that’s not all folk. Hirst also makes millions on his “spin” art.

(Excuse me while I pause. I am convulsing in laughter. I mean, “spin” art???)

Yeah! I am talking about the kind of “art” your kids did in the second grade, at the carnival, or on their very own Fischer-Price “Spin-O-Matic.” You put the paper on a rotor, drizzle paint and, voile! You have created “art.”

Sometimes I feel like the kid looking at the naked king. Don’t these money flashing art collectors realize how incredibly stupid they look? While they can certainly show the power of their money, they are also revealing their insecurities and lack of common sense. And no matter how much the pay for this stuff, it isn’t fine art. It hardly rises to the level of “craft.” There is nothing wrong with rich people buying nice things – better cars, larger houses, fancier boats, bigger diamonds – but stuff like this … ???

Well, it is said that a fool and his (and her, to be politically correct) money is soon parted. Personally, I admire the fooler more than the foolee in this case. You go, Damien.

Footnote to Damien Hirst: Have you ever considered Paint-by-Numbers or Etch-A-Sketch?