BY THE TIME YOU HAVE FINISHED READING this piece, a painting “Berlin Duck #2” by the American artist Joe Bradley would have changed hands at the Christie’s auction in New York. Likewise, another one actually bearing the title “Beautiful, Hydrochloric, Non-Functional, Expansive, Vortex, Whorl, Wizz Painting” by Damien Hirst would have also changed ownership at the same auction house, but in London. 

ORDINARY MORTALS WILL MAKE NO SENSE of both these paintings.  In particular one cannot help wondering if the painter did actually smear bullshit on to his canvas.  I am forced to reach this conclusion when I saw the replica of the painting in FT Wealth yesterday and this conclusion was further reinforced when I read on the web Bradley’s own confession that he likes to make his paintings “intentionally shoddy” and “pathetic” !  Some courage, this. Likewise, Hirst once said with abandon that some of his work was actually drawn by his “two year old son with some help from a 10 year old.” and this was particularly alluded to some of his “spin paintings” created by “paint dribbled on a revolving surface”  Unless, I am mistaken, the current one on auction appears to be from this stable.  It will be recalled that Damien Hirst’s work “For the Love of God“comprising of a platinum cast of an 18th century human skull encrusted with 8601 diamonds did fetch USD 50 mn or thereabouts a few years ago.  It is also pertinent to note that the price of Hirst paintings plummeted by about 30 pct in 2012 from its peak in 2008 and some of his paintings did not sell at all leading the Daily Mail to exclaim ” Pity the credulous sops who spent fortunes on his tosh!” Ruth Dudley Edwards then aptly remarked : ” Not everyone recognizes that the artist emperor is naked, but in the art world there is growing unease that his clothes might be looking a bit threadbare.”  I am not so sure now given the new, wholly undeserving interest in Hirst.

WHAT WE ARE CURRENTLY WITNESSING is an unfortunate “proliferation of the ugly and the pointless”.  Yes, Anish Kapoor’s ghastly installation at Stratford for the London Olympics (sponsored by none other than Lakshmi Mittal) belongs to this category. But curiously enough, as Claire MacAndrew who runs Art Economics says : “Everyone wants the same few things.”  Pray, who is everyone ?  The noveau riche of  the art world these days are largely hedge fund managers and Chinese billionaires who appear to have money to burn.  The art mafia comprising of the so called opinion makers from auction houses, art galleries, art critics, and indeed persons occupying exalted positions in art institutions (some of which are run at tax payers’ expense) see to it that there is not only a buzz around meaningless work but also the build up of an exalted status for stuff that is anything but art.  Indeed, not so long ago, the head of Tate Modern attracted a lot of criticism for endorsing an installation by Tracey Emin which was nothing but a shameless exhibition of her filthy bed.  Incidentally, Ms Emin went on to achieve even greater notoriety for her explicit drawings of her own genitalia.

LEST IT BE MISUNDERSTOOD – there is indeed a great deal of good work still being done by artists round the world but most of it sadly goes unrecognized and some great artists slip into oblivion given the stranglehold of the art mafia.  The present day patrons of art do indeed need to undergo elementary courses in art appreciation because in the art world today every credibility gap has a gullibility fill.  The art patrons who are prepared to part with megabucks on a Bradley or a Hirst would have done a great service to humanity if they had diverted their funds to Liberia instead for the eradication of Ebola.

I WRING MY HANDS IN DESPAIR at the goings-on in art auctions these days but ultimately find consolation in what Alain de Botton (School of Life founder) said recently : “There is no such thing as great art – only art that works for you.”  


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