The isms of the 21st century – from stuckism to brandism?After postmodernism there has been a tendency to avoid defining contemporary art with the help of isms. This changed in 1999 with a new ism: stuckism.
The story goes that stuckism and its subsequent manifesto got their first kick from Tracey Emin – the most famous woman artist from the YBA (Young British Artists) group, which has been building its reputation since the late 1980s. Tracey Emin told to her then boyfriend Billy Childish that his figurative work was “stuck, stuck, stuck” (in Finnish “jumissa, jumissa, jumissa”). One could suggest translating stuckism into Finnish as jumismi.
In their own way, the stuckists are very stuck today – Childish and the co-founder Charles Thomson developed an ism with a manifesto, the ingredients of which resemble a strangely served double-decker hamburger: “International art movement for new figurative painting with ideas. Anti the pretensions of conceptual art. Anti-anti-art. The first remodernist art group.”
With its knockout aesthetics and other contents, the stuckist website is like a mail order catalogue, which reveals that there are 154 stuckists in 38 countries, even one in Kankaanpää, Finland. Visually this material is full of rip-offs from art history and popular culture to such a grotesque extent that any cultured postmodern artist, who used to cite others openly – Sherrie Levine, for instance – would turn pale.
As a movement stuckism is publicity-seeking: they have been especially against Nicholas Serota, the Director of Tate Modern in London and his museum acquisitions. Now that there is a renewed interest in painting on the international art scene, the stuckists’ objection to conceptual art seems somewhat outdated, but they continue to be critical of the YBA’s and of course their superstar figurehead, Damien Hirst. But does the stuckists’ inclination towards rip-offs and publicity eventually differ from stealing, borrowing and media manipulation typical of Hirst? In my opinion it does – in the sense that Damien is a professional, the stuckists are not.
Hirst has had critics with shark teeth circling him for quite some time in Britain, and in 2005 his show in New York was characterized by local critics as ‘terrible’ and he himself as ‘a wildly overrated tufthunter’.
At the beginning of 2007, Hirst and Larry Gagosian, his gallerist with super antennae, set off to the warmer and less critical Hollywood swarming with millionaire collectors in order to open an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles just a few days before the Academy Awards. When writing this it is in my knowledge that the church window shaped butterfly works executed entirely by Hirst’s assistants have sold for 55 million US dollars.
The Finnish art market researcher Pauliina Laitinen-Laiho is talking about brandism, the branding of an artist in such a way “that you can recognize the artist’s oeuvre even at a hundred meters distance” (Helsingin Sanomat, 18th February 2007, Taloustaito 2/2007).
In Hirst’s case, this could be multiplied many times, for instance on the hills of Beverly Hills, but the collectors are also buying his name without seeing his work at all. Is this what the top art of the 21st century is about – brands, names and numbers?