Warning: Metaphor Ahead!

Is there a better image to represent the state of our economy (and the greed that led to its implosion) than Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull? [Editor's note: The skull is not Damien Hirst's. It belongs (or belonged) to someone else. Damien Hirst just did the encrusting. Actually an intern was probably responsible for the encrusting].

In an article in the Guardian shortly before last week's Sotheby's auction of Hirst's work, cranky art critic Robert Hughes wrote this critique:

"[The] the presence of a Hirst in a collection is a sure sign of dullness of taste ... No wonder so many business big-shots go for Hirst: his work is both simple-minded and sensationalist, just the ticket for newbie collectors who are, to put it mildly, connoisseurship-challenged and resonance-free. Where you see Hirsts you will also see Jeff Koons's balloons, Jean-Michel Basquiat's stoned scribbles, Richard Prince's feeble jokes and pin-ups of nurses and, inevitably, scads of really bad, really late Warhols. Such works of art are bound to hang out together, a uniform message from our fin-de-siècle decadence."

Despite dark economic clouds heading toward Wall Street while Hurricane Ike was stomping Galveston, Hirst's auction at Sotheby's raked in a reported $200 million. I understand that the really high bids were taken over the phone, presumably because flagrantly flaunting one's fat finances has become unseemly.

I'm not trying to start of fist fight over whether Hirst is an important artist. I'm more fascinated by questions of how the marketplace values the arts-- or, for that matter, financial instruments, or real estate, or black tulips, or the menu at Portland's new top-end restaurant Lucier (where I hope the "Troll Caught Turbot" is actually caught by a troll).

In the most basic of economic theory, "value" is defined by what the market is willing to pay for a service or product. Thus, a pickled shark is worth $17 million because one collector is willing to write a check for that amount. Better cash it quickly Damien! By the way, here's a Hirst shark done in Legos:

Where am I going with this? Jeez, I don't know, plus I'm trying to watch "Dancing with the Stars" (sic), so leave me alone. I guess I'm just saying that perhaps we're entering a time of reckoning when market "corrections" will return sanity to our topsy-turvy world. Or maybe some investment banker is sipping a martini, staring at his new vitrine full of putrefying shark and wondering how to get a piece of that $700 billion the feds are getting ready to hand out.

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