Damien Hirst – he of pickled shark and multi-million-dollar diamond encrusted skull fame – is having his 1st retrospective show in London (click ‘here‘). I don’t think much of him as an artist; he is much better as a media-whore who knows how to grab the spotlight (and cash) than he is at producing a series of coherent, thought-provoking works of art.
But what is great is that London is putting up his show at the Tate Modern, as a sign of his importance to not just British art but also the global art community as a whole. Damien, you see, is not only good at making eye-catching artworks (suspending a real cow in liquid as art? brilliant!!), but he can also cajole the art-market to spend millions and millions on his creations, all done so even before he is dead! What I find intriguing about him is that he has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the art-world – he openly admits that much of his art was made by other people (albeit under his supervision and direction). An artist who tells the world his multi-million dollar artworks are mostly made NOT by his hands? Told you he is a brilliant media-player…….
Oh, back to my point: So far, art exhibitions in Singapore have been nothing but ‘safe’. Yes, Georgette Chen and Liu Kang painted beautiful paintings that laid the foundation for our present art movements, but such pioneer artists – both their lives and art – are nothing short of dull. Not to take anything away from their achievements, our pioneer AND most of our contemporary artists – and the many exhibitions dedicated to them – may be good at producing art, but they are very very bad at producing controversies, which is sometimes what art is about.
Perhaps it’s our eager censorship system that discourages our artists from making ‘interesting, controversial’ art. Maybe such art is not popular with buyers, and so artists play safe and make what they can ‘sell’. Maybe as a society, Singaporeans are yet to be mature enough for religious icons painted with poo or homo-erotic porn photos now deemed as ‘art’. But aren’t I making excuses for Singapore? Even Communist China – think of the recent case where Ai Weiwei rattles his conservative government – has its fair share of artists who challenge the status quo.
We – and our national institutions of art – must remember that ‘art’ is not just about pretty sunflowers painted with thick dollops of oil (and even Van Gogh’s life as a depressed, unappreciated pauper missing one ear was far from conventional); art is also about the sex, the drugs, the snipping of pubic hair in public, the drinking of piss, and, of course, the rock-&-roll.