This week my thoughts have been distracted on multiple occasions by the launch of a piece of art that I find awful and fascinating in equal measure.
I’m talking about the Damien Hirst-designed suite in Las Vegas, at the Palms Casino Resort. Why do I find it so fascinating? Well might you ask. It’s not the first time an artist has turned their hand to design – 2019 is, after all, the centenary of the Bauhaus. Nor is it exactly the first time Hirst has been in the centre of conversations about money in the art world – from sharks to skulls, he’s built a career on it.
So why do I find myself thinking about this one so much? I think at least part of the answer is in aesthetics. For reference, here’s a few photos:
All images from Dezeen, courtesy of Palms Casino Resort.
Where to begin with how much I dislike it? I’d hate the colour scheme anyway – grey,-on-grey comes across a Bond villain’s lair than the height of sophistication. And thrown over the top of all the blandness, the ‘Greatest Hits’ of Damien Hirst: pills, butterflies – stuffed sharks, of course.
Before I go any further, it’s worth me stating that on occasion, I haven’t minded Hirst. One of my earliest posts was about my admiration of The Physicality Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, and I used his 2013 GQ shoot as an example in a recent MA essay (although that was more inspired by the subject than the artist). But this is more like a bad tribute than an original concept. I’d believe it if you told me that this was masterminded by the same person who somehow thought it was a good idea to let Theresa May wear a Frida Kahlo bracelet in public.
A quote from the Bloomberg report on the suite explains why this suite exists pretty succintly: “It’s [for] people who are looking for one-of-a-kind experiences, or to throw an event, or to show off a bit”. So it’s not about knowing about art, but knowing that art is something that can be shown off about.
I said at the start that my feelings about this suite fall somewhere between horror and fascination – I’m almost at the point of including a begrudging admiration in there. I think I could admire it if I believed that it was self aware of what it was for, but I don’t. OK, it’s called the ‘Empathy’ suite – a name so obviously, lazily ironic I think that all of 30 seconds went into choosing it.
And yet whilst I can think of plenty of more interesting artists, Hirst is the household name. And he stays there, making millions, by making products like this. Is this the inevitable, depressing conclusion to becoming enormously successful – pandering to a market with certain expectations of your product?
The best thing I can end up saying about the Empathy suite is that it’s in Las Vegas – many, many thousands of miles away, and in a price bracket way outside of anything I (or indeed, most artists) will ever afford. Honestly, if the pinnacle of art in that world is nasty colours and tacky transfers on the window, they’re welcome to each other. That sounds bitter, but it’s not – and I would certainly not subscribe to a romantic “starving artist” image. But somewhere in between the struggle and megastardom lies a space where money gives freedom, rather than expectation. And I’m pretty sure that no creative epiphanies will be happening in this hotel suite.