September 29, 2006

Yes, it was a tad ridiculous to pay $8 million for it...

... but now it isn't even it anymore. You've just constructed a replica of it... and therefore: a monument to your folly.
It was a delicate undertaking, one that required rubberized protective jumpsuits, long tables of medical equipment and more than 224 gallons of formaldehyde. The goal: to replace the decaying tiger shark that floats in one of Mr. Hirst’s best-known works of Conceptual art, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.”...

[A]s a result of inadequate preservation efforts, time was not kind to the original, which slowly decomposed until its form changed, its skin grew deeply wrinkled, and the solution in the tank turned murky....

Mr. Hirst acknowledges that once the shark is replaced, art historians will argue that the piece cannot be considered the same artwork.
Yes, exactly.
“It’s a big dilemma,’’ he said. “Artists and conservators have different opinions about what’s important: the original artwork or the original intention. I come from a Conceptual art background, so I think it should be the intention. It’s the same piece. But the jury will be out for a long time to come.’’
People have often asked me how I could go from art school to law school, art being so far removed from law, so very unlike it. But, no, it's not, is it? Original intention. What a wonderful phrase for finessing your interpretation! And may I suggest to Mr. Hirst the notion of a living artwork? Now, that could get you everything you ever want.

16 comments:

Sanjay said...

But isn't the artwork you're talking about clled a "fishtank," and aren;t there lots of people who already do it?

For that matter, hell, I can assure you it's no big trick to produce a tank full of _dead_ fish. However big they are.

Revenant said...

I've never been able to identify with actually caring if an artwork is "original" or only a replica. They are for all intents and purposes identical, so who cares?

This is probably why I went into engineering instead of art criticism. :)

Sanjay said...

Revenant's comment reminds me of a short story by Borges which pretends at being a critic writing on someone else who wrote, word-for-word, _Don Quixote_, and how much better the new _Quixote_ is given the writer's background....

George said...

You can't trust water. Even a straight stick turns crooked in it. -- W.C. Fields.

--

For truly low-end art, consider the output of Piero Manzoni:

http://home.sprynet.com/~mindweb/can.htm

Anonymous said...

Funny the WC Fields quote I heard about water was different (and far more risque, #8 on this list).

And #23, "# Hell, I never vote for anybody. I always vote against." seems more and more true every October in an election year.

Ann Althouse said...

Revenant: If you paid $8 million for it and hoped to cash in later when you sold it, you'd care. If you were the prospective buyer, you'd care.

altoids1306 said...

Artists selling their nonsense to rich people for ridiculous amounts of money - what else is new.

downtownlad said...

Still one of the best works of art this century. Shame that it's decaying.

Revenant said...

Revenant: If you paid $8 million for it and hoped to cash in later when you sold it, you'd care. If you were the prospective buyer, you'd care.

I guess. I can't quite wrap my brain around the idea of buying a dead shark in formaldehyde as an *investment*, though.

What, was the store all out of beanie babies?

downtownlad said...

$8 million was actually pretty cheap. BEFORE anyone knew it would self-destruct.

Still might prove to be good investment though. It's kind of the equivalent of Van Gogh's Sunflowers - in terms of the impact it has had on art for its time period.

Revenant said...

Nah, spending $8 million on something like that is like buying $8 million worth of pet rocks. You'd better hope the fad doesn't die out.

Beautiful art survives. Technically skilled art survives. Clever art becomes worthless once the cleverness wears off.

Ann Althouse said...

Revenant: You're just saying you don't like this particular artwork. That's irrelevant to the original/replica problem. Let's say someone pays $1 million for the manuscript of a book and it's destroyed in a fire. Substituting a xerox of the manuscript might make that person feel somewhat better, but he's lost his investment. To say, well, it wasn't a good book is beside the point.

downtownlad said...

From the article - it sounds like he paid $8 million even though he knew it was decaying.

He's a hedge fund magnate anyway. $8 million is a drop in the bucket.

Revenant said...

You're just saying you don't like this particular artwork.

I compared it to a pet rock. Are you saying you don't like pet rocks? :)

I wouldn't say I dislike the artwork. It looks kind of cool. I just think the idea of buying a preserved corpse as an investment is insane.

Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

I've often thought my undergraduate work in English was so similar to legal practice, and yet many people don't see that at all. Literary deconstruction is statutory interpretation! Read every word, every comma for meaning. Interpret them to suit your purposes... subvert them on your client's behalf. The only difference is that judges don't give credit for outrageous creativity. Not true of the academy, it seems.
All the liberal arts are so important to understanding law! I detest those who think it's like learning a computer science, where you just plug the numbers in to see what comes out of the machine.

Liam Colvin said...

Well, you have to first decide what art is, and what qualifies something as a piece of art.

The classic commentary on this is the idea of contextualism. If the only way you can identify a piece of art is to see it in a gallery, then the context is part of the piece.

Taking that piece of art out of that context requires you to then either hold the piece in an internal context, identifying it as "art", or to place it in another context to clearly identify it as "art". A painting is clearly a piece of "art" good, bad or indifferent no matter if you see it in a gallery or an outhouse.

A pickled shark, on the other hand, requires a hefty dose of context or a really big sign stating: "This is an $8m piece of art" to explain it's qualification of art.

John Cage, for instance, took this to extremes, employing totally random, non musical sounds to create "music".

The pain of the shark's owner escapes me, other than perhaps the profound realization he might have time to time that he doesnt really know what "art" is.