Damien Hirst says crisis will stimulate artists

KIEV (Reuters Life!) - The global financial crisis is not such a bad thing if you are an artist, according to multi-millionaire British artist Damien Hirst.

British artist Damien Hirst poses next to one of his works in Kiev April 23, 2009. An exhibition of more than 100 of Hirst's works from 1990 to 2008, the largest such presentation ever assembled, is on display at a Kiev gallery until September. REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin

Hirst, interviewed by Reuters as the biggest ever exhibition of his works opens in Ukraine, said those in the arts world were not motivated by profit, though they can certainly put money to good use.

“I think for artists, it’s always easier to make art in bad times, sadly. It’s a lot more difficult than when times are good to make art,” Hirst said.

“People are not buying art in the way that they were. But maybe that’s a good thing. The reason why you make art is not financial... It’s not about how much something is worth or how much it costs, it’s about whether it’s good or not.”

Hirst’s exhibit in Kiev, entitled Requiem, has more than 100 works produced between 1990 to 2008 and is on display at a gallery owned by Ukrainian industrial magnate Viktor Pinchuk.

It includes his world-famous pickled sharks, the corpse of a cow suspended from a rope, its entrails lying beneath it alongside banknotes, and the severed head of a cow covered in live, buzzing flies.

The focal point of the exhibition, as the painter turns back to painting from sculpture, are a series of skulls.

A diamond-encrusted skull by Hirst fetched $100 million in 2007, but it was a private transaction and the fact that Hirst was part of the group of investors who bought it raised questions about its true value.

Another featured work, a sculpture in silver entitled “St Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain,” depicts the saint having just cut off his entire skin with scissors.

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Art, Hirst said, is surviving for now. Sales of his works at auction had brought in “lots of money.”

In September last year Hirst wildly exceeded expectations when he sold 218 items for the record-breaking price of 111 million pounds ($162.7 million), considered an indication at the time of the art market’s resilience in the face of a financial market downturn.

“Whenever you look at a painting on the wall you’re not really thinking of that. You’re thinking about how great it looks.”

But even artists had to think of where the money would come from to keep on producing.

“I have a really good business manager. He told me a long time ago ‘You’d better make sure that you’re using the money to chase your art ideas rather than the art to chase your money ideas.’ Which is a very important thing to never forget.”

Hirst said he was pleased to put on the exhibition in Kiev, where there was “a lot of excitement about contemporary art,” with long queues often forming outside showings.

The skull paintings, he said, amounted to the end of something and the beginning of something new.

“I like the saying that we’re here for a good time not a long time,” he said. “So we should enjoy it.”

But he acknowledged that the show, as in other countries, might not be to everyone’s taste.

“I think Ukraine is no different from anywhere else in the world. Everywhere I go, I get people who like my work and people who hate my work. As long as there is a big debate,” he said.

“I would hope that a lot of people who think they hate it will actually like it when they see it.”

Writing by Ron Popeski, editing by Paul Casciato