Do I need to say the graphic is by me? It is. Feel free to share it. [click for larger version]
Vote in the poll. If you follow my blog you know I come down hard on these guys, especially Koons, and I’m in the midst of a 4-part post about the effect of the ultra rich on art and artists. These dudes are the darlings of the super rich art buyers, and the more I’ve examined their output and methods, the more I’ve come to see them not as artists, but more as bosses of art factories who get (or in the case of Hirst steal) an idea for a product, usually a copy of an already existing object, and then commission expert artisans, or their own studio workers to create it for them (who they apparently deem unworthy of giving any credit to). They rarely participate in the making of the product, or in the aesthetics or original conception, which means that they are stunted as artists because they haven’t developed the ability to invent and reconsider during the making process, or to fuse making with conceptualizing. They are like musicians who can’t play instruments, and this limits them to depending on others to use their skills to execute a preconceived idea. This also explains the perfectionist, highly polished final products. There can be no personal touch, or evidence of a human hand, because it wouldn’t be theirs. Nevertheless, because of their fabulous wealth and ability to hire the most skilled artisans, it is a bit like having a genie to make your art for you.

Anyway, which of these two do you like better? I’m sure you won’t be influenced by my opinion, but I choose Hirst, hands down. All of his work is on a sort of boyish high-school level: dissecting animals, looking at skulls, noticing that color charts are themselves colorful. Koons’ work is more kitsch and feminine: shopping, figurines, hearts, stuffed animals. I also like gross stuff, so I’d much rather look at a Hirst sculptural appropriation of a cutaway pregnant woman biology kit than a Koons sculptural appropriation of a balloon dog. On the other hand I read that Hirst under-payed the artists who created his work for him, and Koons being a bit gentler, if no less avaricious, treats his inferiors with at least a gesture of respect.

Admittedly, the more I delve into these guys the more appreciation I have for them. Still, if you’ve got over a hundred artists working under you and tens of millions at your disposal, you’d better deliver.

Which art CEO is do you like better?

Oh, and if anyone can give me a more comprehensive figure on the total output of Koons, I’d appreciate it.

5 replies on “Which “artist” do you prefer, Koons or Hirst?

  1. How do you respond to the argument that the “great” artists of the past were always tied to money, and could not make their art by themselves – needed assistants to grind pigments, for example? Isn’t the idea of an artist (as opposed to a craftsperson) who does everything by himself and has no connection to a wealthy patron primarily a 20th century phenomenon based on the apotheosis of the Individual and even a bit illusory? Haven’t the fine visual arts always been connected to money? Even famous folk artists achieve that fame because they have been selected by rich and powerful dealers/collectors/institutions. Granted Koons and Hirst exist on the extreme end of a system where corruption reigns, but if a fine artist wants to make a comfortable living, doesn’t he have to, at some point, be picked up by one or two people with money and influence?


    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Mark. I agree with the part about artists needing money to do their work, and that the money is likely to come from wealthy art patrons. I also agree that lots of artists employ assistants. I know Gerhard Richter does, but, when it comes to making the art, he does it himself. There’s a big difference between mixing pigments, stretching canvases, and making a full painting. Some artists like Rubens are well known for having apprentices work on their paintings, but they didn’t do work that Rubens himself was incapable of, rather, they did the tedious stuff that he couldn’t be bothered with. In the case of Hirst and Koons, it isn’t the unskilled work that they delegate to their underlings, it’s the really hard stuff that requires a high level of skill they don’t posses. Koons has admitted this. He calls him self a “sculptor” but is actually incapable himself of sculpting at all, and hasn’t done any sculpture in his adult life. Similarly, Hirst paid assistants to make whole series of paintings for him because he was incapable of doing them himself.

      What impresses about Koons’ and Hirst’s large scale sculptures isn’t the idea behind it (more often than not they just borrow something from popular culture and instruct their assistants to make a copy), but rather the flawless execution which is the consequence of thousands of hours of work (Koons’ “Hanging Heart” took 6,000 hour of labor, none of it his), and the skills of hired artisans who get no credit for the finished result. If Koons or Hirst had to make their own sculptures or paintings with their own hands (the ones that actually require sculpting), they would look like crap. Well, Hirst tried to make one series of paintings himself, and they came out like Francis Bacon-derived student works. The critics who loved his other work panned them. These artists promote themselves as idea men, but the ideas would be worthless without the flawless and expert execution, and the ideas themselves are threadbare. In short, the “assistants” aren’t assisting, they are doing the whole work.

      The end results are sometimes impressive. But, how could they not be, when they cost millions of dollars and are executed by some of the best artisans on the planet (Koons has commissioned expert Italian artisans to create his porcelain works, for example)? How could a 6 ton hanging sculpture not be impressive? It doesn’t matter if it’s a foil-covered heart candy, or, hmmmm, an enormous, translucent polymer gummy worm (Feel free to steal that idea, anyone). You just can’t go wrong. What impresses is the large scale productions, not the intrinsic art.

      There’s something terribly wrong with today’s most vaunted artists being incapable of making their own art.

      But they can’t, or when they attempt to, the results are amateurish, contrived, and have obvious short comings that can be picked apart. They are more like art directors than artists. They can’t inspire other artists unless those artists similarly are equipped with millions and an arsenal of skilled assistants. Let me just sum it up this way, paying someone else to paint your painting or make your sculpture is a lot like paying someone else to write your novel. You didn’t do it.

      Here’s a video clip of Robert Hughes on Jeff Koons, including an interview with him, where he admits he can’t sculpt at all. Meanwhile he compares himself to Michelangelo in terms of sculpture. Gadz! Is that NOT ridiculous?! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1FHy7eQtEo

      Oops, wrong video clip. This one’s better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-imUiYqybc


  2. Apologies for desisting from voting, but I find that the more attention that is given to these guys (pro or anti), the more attention they get, which is of course, a tautology. Forgive me also, but you keep saying that these posts are about the effect on art that the rich have, but I’m not clear about what the effect is that you’re claiming. Part 2 I get – your transcendence argument is very similar to Roger Scruton’s assertion that art is rooted in religious sentiments (though not necessarily organised religion in the way we understand it today). You would like his Intelligent Person’s Guide to Culture by the way. Your claim there seems to be that the focus on trashiness, kitsch, the everydayness to Koons et al seems to reflect a consumerist bankrupcy that reflects their values and lifestyle (which I why I ask what I do in the comments on that post). This post, however, seems to repeat what you say elsewhere to the effect that no skill = no art. What I’m not clear about is what you’re saying the effect is on art from the Hirst & co manufacturing approach. What do you think it is changing adversely? People’s views about art? The nature of what is produced by others? What?
    By the way, I thought I read somewhere recently that Koons has had to lay off some of his staff. Recession apparently. I suppose this shows what good eggs they must be to provide arts employment, ja?!


    1. I’m going to wrap that up in part 4. But, in short, the art is promoted because it reflects the values of the ultra rich, such as an arbitrary assigning of meaning and significance, and sidelining objective standards and criticism as just taste. A parallel has developed between the most successful artists and the CEO under capitalism. They don’t do the work themselves, they assign it to underlings and make enormous profit off of their laborers work, which they take all the credit for. Meanwhile they are mostly incapable of doing their own work.On top of that their ideas aren’t even interesting,are “appropriated” or plagiarized to begin with, and the measure of the worth of art as defined by the most successful artists is how large and expensive an object, installation, or series of paintings can be. It is the art of power, and because of the money invested in it and promoting it, it drowns out all other fine art for the majority of people.


    2. Oh yeah, about the attention thing. I’m not sure any and all attention is a good thing. I’m trying to expose them as hacks by making logical arguments, sharing facts, and showing that if it’s just “about the idea” than, with the power of the computer and Photoshop, I can execute facsimiles of similar ideas, which shows that the idea is NOT the hard part – the realization is the hard part, and often the concepts evolve and are imbedded in the making of a piece – while also proving that I’m not being critical because I don’t get it and am hopelessly conservative or behind the times, or am not capable of conceptual appropriate art, but rather because it’s actually threadbare and has very little to offer (and to the degree that it does, you can just go to the original source or something similar).

      Besides which, you are voting not on which artist you like better, but which “CEO” of an art production company.


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