One mid-October night in 2001, some canny bloke, a cleaning man, arrived at the Eyestorm Gallery in London to find it strewn with "half-full coffee cups, ashtrays with cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, a paint-smeared palette, an easel, a ladder, paintbrushes, candy wrappers and newspaper pages," according to the New York Times, and, assuming it was the leavings of a party held earlier in the evening for artist Damien Hirst's new exhibition, swept it up. Later he told the Evening Standard, "As soon as I clapped eyes on it, I sighed because there was so much mess. ... It didn't look much like art to me. So I cleared it all in bin bags, and I dumped it." He had cleaned up the art--valued in the six figures--along with the trash.
It had to happen eventually: some poor sot mistakes art for refuse and makes the papers by binning it. Except that, in his case, the cleaning man was not mistaken--the trash he cleared away was, in fact, trash. Only the context made it art, and the dubious claim that an "artist" had directed its strewing. It wasn't an atrocious painting or the result of some untalented sculptor's attempt at making something that looked like trash. What the cleaning man tidied up was an actual pile of real butts, cups, and beer bottles. That Hirst prefers real objects--pill bottles, medical equipment, sliced-up sharks, cows, and sheep--to crafted ones does not necessarily mean that his pieces are not amusing; they usually have a wicked one-liner quality to them. At their best, they resemble oversized Wunderkammern: funny, engaging, and strange. Still, Hirst's aims do not exactly converge with what we normally think of as the aims of art, which he himself has acknowledged in a number of interviews. For instance, asked about the links between his use of actual dead animals in his installations (such as those exhibited two years ago in the controversial Sensation show at New York's Brooklyn Museum) and those paintings by Chaim Soutine and Francis Bacon that depict animal carcasses, Hirst explained, "I love Soutine and Francis Bacon. But what I was doing is not painting. It's completely different.... Soutine would never have exhibited the dead animals. I wanted reality."
If the person eating is says it's their meal, ITS A FRICKIN MEAL.
It might not be a nutritious meal. It might not be tasty TO YOU. It might not be filling, even to them. But if that's what they say it is, then that's what it is.
IT'S ART. It's not to my taste, I doubt it will influence or inspire much, but hey, more power to them. It's a heck of alot more art than some people I know are doing.
It's art if someone other than the artist thinks it is.
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