He shocked everyone with a recent article in the Guardian: "Being an art buyer these days is comprehensively and indisputably vulgar. It is the sport of the Eurotrashy, Hedge-fundy, Hamptonites; of trendy oligarchs and oiligarchs." Saatchi, the man who made the reputations of almost all the artists now deemed most offensive, with an adman's snigger, tries to position himself away from the art of the 1 per cent. He sides with the masses, of course, to whom he has always sidled for his sell. He even pretends to be brainwashing his reader, implying that conceptual art has not been his problem; now conceptual art is just for those who are too timid to judge on painting: "For professional curators, selecting specific paintings for an exhibition is a daunting prospect, far too revealing a demonstration of their lack of what we in the trade call ‘an eye'." Back then when it suited him, Saatchi would have laughed at the idea of "an eye". It is only a small exaggeration to say that the aesthetic of superficiality was his own aesthetic, the advertiser's aesthetic defiantly conquering the terrain of art. Saatchi is alert to the public mood — that is the success of his business. In that public mood he must have noticed the significant new attitude. Contemporary art's old allure is gone. Since the art is not cool, the advertiser is hedging. He declares himself out before the others — the only way to stay cool.
Without cool, contemporary art may be devastated. A contributor to Vice magazine, a young person's guide to correctly subversive fashions, inadvertently showed how art is failing. "You know what? I'm sick of pretending. I went to art school, wrote a dissertation called ‘The Elevation of Art Through Commerce: An Analysis of Charles Saatchi's Approach to the Machinery of Art Production Using Pierre Bourdieu's Theories of Distinction', have attended art openings at least once a month for the last five years, even fucking purchased pieces of it, but after attending the opening of the new Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, I'm finally ready to come out and say it: I just don't think I ‘get' art."
The critic is in earnest, but he is not wholly honest with himself. He "got" art when it was cool; he does not "get" art when it is uncool. He "got" art because it was cool. And he really got it, as we can see from his dissertation title. He is a fashionable person. Accidentally, he confirms what every sane person always knew: contemporary art is just a branch of fashion. Judgment of contemporary art is a matter of being "on trend", not of discerning qualities. He is "finally ready to come out and say it", now, because this is just the moment a fashionable person would say it — the moment art lost its cool. If the fashionable crowds, with the critics, move away, art loses its status as commodity. It can still be a stock, of course, but it is riskier. The cheeriest sections of the crowd are now doubting, and pointing, so the big investors, with the museum directors in their pockets, will have to guard the emperor's clothes more vigilantly.
The artists, though, are fashionable people; for a while now we have seen them sensing the public mood and, like Saatchi, appeasing it as quickly as possible. In late 2009 Hirst remade himself as a painter, staging a show at the Wallace Collection so that his pictures could be seen one room away from Rembrandt. There was the usual vanity, but more important is the suggestive repositioning of his work, from commodity to high art. Just like Saatchi and his "eye", Hirst trusts paintings to have the power to convince people of high-minded intentions, and make them forget sins that fell out of fashion. In a recent interview Hirst referred to the influence of William Blake, Rodin, Bomberg, Bacon. When Hirst was at the peak of his popularity in the 1990s, he referred to older art, such as painting, only to introduce his epiphany about "visual language". "I was thinking that all the beautiful art always existed in the past . . . I suddenly realised that I'm walking round with my fucking head on the ground. And if you pick your head up, there's fucking advertising billboards and TV and magazine images and fashion and design and film [ . . . ] As soon as I lifted my head up off the ground, that's when I realised that all the stuff I saw wasn't shit."
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