Hirst, the Chairs, and the Consequences
Cypriots L. Brazanthr
Art is manipulative. I’ve met many who feel like this is art’s terrifying evil secret but I’ve always been at peace with it. If something was just artificial and did nothing for my emotions, why would I care about it?
I hated the work of Damien Hirst when I first encountered it. That’s not unusual. The guy incites rage in a lot of people. He seems undeserving of his wealth and fame because his work seems so easy to execute once the initial concept is down. A dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” is on one level of irritating but “For the Love of God” seems absolutely infuriating, even in comparison to his other simplistic sculptures.
“For the Love of God” is special for being one of the most expensive pieces of art ever sold and its title is exactly what comes to mind when you hear that it’s a human skull covered in diamonds and it sold for fifty million British pounds. Hirst then begins to embody everything terrible about the art world of 2007: rich people buying terrible art on name recognition, names becoming important for some reason, dumb concepts outweighing craftsmanship etc.
Except “For the Love of God” wasn’t really sold for fifty million British pounds. The purchase was staged by Hirst himself using an anonymous consortium of buyers which he was a part of. Using lying and manipulation, Hirst painted upon the canvas of the world and suddenly everything terrible about the work becomes its strength. Its title makes sense, its morbid opulence and huge sale price are satire and it makes perfect sense that it embodies everything you’d think is terrible about contemporary art. It’s all by design and it makes the public think of Damien Hirst as something he never was! The lie was the art; the rest was an expensive prop made of human remains and diamonds.
My apartment at one time had six metal chairs. They were sort of ugly and uncomfortable but very special. My two roommates and I were very proud of them even though we had trouble figuring out sane ways to arrange them in our apartment. They were very obviously not the kinds of chairs you keep in a house. There was a very good reason for that– we got them at a Denny’s.
The fun of having those chairs was telling people that we stole them. With no hesitation, we each took two chairs under arms when we finished the meal and left the restaurant with them, then put them in the car and drove off. We could still patronize Denny’s since no employee or manager there ever accused us of theft. The intended moral was that if you just act like what you’re doing is the correct action and never waiver, then you can get away with anything.
It was a great story to tell our guests and we loved those crappy chairs but the sad reality of the matter was that our story wasn’t completely true. The chairs did come from a Denny’s and we did simply take them without asking anybody but we didn’t get them from inside the restaurant. No, these chairs were out by the dumpsters in the aftermath of remodeling. When we decided these would make good furniture in our apartment, we agreed on a beautiful lie and we would never tell the truth to anyone ever, which is, as you may have inferred by having read so far, not an agreement we stuck to.
It wasn’t just a dumb crime boast to make us look cool. The magic of the story was that it required the world to work a certain way in order to be believed. Because these were clearly restaurant chairs in our house and the three of us were all clearly bold vandals who broke into abandoned buildings, snuck into members-only events, and did occasionally steal things from grocery stores, it was entirely plausible that we really took the chairs the way we said we did. People want to believe that there are mystic tricks that let you get away with the absurd and the criminal. It wasn’t just a lie. It was art.
Two weeks before we broke up, I told her that the story about the chairs was false, that I was proud of the lie and that I wasn’t really a thief. She was having issues with me being kind of a low-life. In her mind, being proud that I’d stolen from such a low-margin business as a restaurant represented a disregard for the well-being of others and it ignited her rage; she should not be dating a bad person like me. I liked her a lot and didn’t want her to think I was horrible; so I offered the truth and she just burned more fiercely.
“If you’re going to lie about things like that, how can I ever trust you again?”
“I wanted to change reality with a story. I wanted to create a reality that had to exist in order for the story to.”
“Don’t try to justify this with Jedi bullshit. How am I supposed to trust you?”