Explanatory notes for the previous entry

27 May 2004

In case you were wondering what I was banging on about: In the same way the physical presence and qualities of the lighter Roosevelt carried, when he was, er, assassinated in a fictional parallel universe where the Nazis won WW2, are totally irrelevant to its authenticity, the physical presence of contemporary art bears no relation to its value. So when that artwork has been incinerated, it doesn’t matter. Emin’s tent or the Chapmans’ vision of Hell may be destroyed, but who cares? They were, are and always will be conceptual. No need to mourn them, no need to recreate them, as their artistic form was only proven in the ideas (in compsci terms, metadata) surrounding them, their physical form (the raw data) is irrelevant. I find it amusing that everyone is wailing and gnashing of teeth so much over their destruction – really, why bother? The art hasn’t gone. Charles Saatchi’s insurers should refuse to pay out, as there has been no actual destruction of the art. In fact he shouldn’t have wasted his money on insuring the physical goods in the first place, he should have just insured the metadata related to them.

(There’s an idea. Coming soon – metadata insurance! That outweighs the value of the data it’s describing! It will happen)


2 Responses

I agree with certain of your points – the actual art of Emin and, even more so, Hirst, was less important that the context and the iconology – but to say that something as detailed and intricate and crafted as Hell was only an “idea” is some way wide of the mark, in my opinion.

In addition, the greatest single loss of any artists work was of the abstract painter Patrick Heron, who had over 50 pieces destroyed. Abstract, but not conceptual. And irreplacable, as Heron died in 1999.

For much of the work, the destruction will have actually increased its iconic worth. But others have simply ceased to exist. Good Grauniad article.

But I like the metadata insurance idea. But what happens when the destruction of the item increases it’s metadata value? Where does the KLF burning £1 million fit into this?…

OK, I’m willing to admit I might not fully appreciate the craft behind ‘Hell’, as I’ve never seen it in the flesh, as it were.

Interesting thing related to what you said about craft – a feature in Private Eye a couple of months ago was on a new book about Mike Smith – a former artist himself who now runs an engineering workshop, whose services are hired by artists (like Damian Hirst, the Chapmans, Rachel Whiteread etc.) to produce the works that they come up with (e.g. the Hirst’s pickled animals, the inverted perspex fourth plinth were both Smith creations – I am unable to ascertain if ‘Hell’ belongs with them).

Anyway, the craft associated with the art has been outsourced and divorced (some critics have claimed that modern-day artists are merely like the old masters in having apprentices doing the grunt work for them – but I don’t agree – now it is the case that the entire physical work of art is out of their hands), so it’s now harder to associate the quality of the artform with the ideas – the crafting and physical work is purely a mechanism, coldly delivered by a professional, rather than lovingly combined with the message.