The dustbin of art history
BEN LEWIS 24TH MAY 2010 — ISSUE 171
Why is so much contemporary art awful? We’re living through the death throes of the modernist project—and
this isn’t the first time that greatness has collapsed into decadence
The paintings in Damien Hirst’s exhibition at the Wallace Collection last October were execrable. Most critics fulminated that these works of art should never have been hung in close proximity to masterpieces by Poussin and Rembrandt. My visit to the show was brief. But as I made my way hastily to the exit—down the grand staircase past vast pompous canvases of sunrise and sunset by the 18th-century French painter François Boucher, full of pink putti and topless girls in diaphanous dresses—I realised that those critics were wrong. The Wallace, famous for its collection of French rococo, was actually the perfect setting for Hirst’s exhibition, titled “No Love Lost, Blue Paintings.”
For there are compelling parallels between much of the contemporary art of the last two decades—not only the work of the expensive artists who made the headlines like Hirst, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, but also many of the conceptual artists patronised by public galleries—and French rococo, a movement that extolled frivolity, luxury and dilettantism, patronised by a corrupt and decadent ancien régime. Boucher’s art represented the degradation of the baroque school’s classical and Christian values into a heavenly zone of soft porn, shorn of danger, conflict and moral purpose. Similarly, Hirst’s work represents the degeneration of the modernist project from its mission to sweep away art’s “bourgeois relics” into a set of eye-pleasing and sentimental visual tropes.
I believe that this decline shares four aesthetic and ideological characteristics with the end-phases of previous grand styles: formulae for the creation of art; a narcissistic, self-reinforcing cult that elevates art and the artist over actual subjects and ideas; the return of sentiment; and the alibi of cynicism.
[he details his ideas on each of the four]
Read the entire story HERE.