Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why artist’s diamonds have lost their sparkle

At a time when diamonds are controversial and heavily criticised for the number of deaths and abuse they have been linked to and caused in Africa, it seems an unmodern stance for artist Damien Hirst to choose and use a massive 8600 in his piece For The Love of God. Mr Hirst has stated: "I want people to see it and be astounded. I want them to gasp." Gasp indeed, and weep. I wonder what the impoverished, amputated, former child soldiers from Sierra Leone and the like would think of this.

White Cube Gallery and the jeweller Bentley & Skinner were asked last week about the "conflict" status of the diamonds used. Within days they made bold "conflict free" statements in interviews. However, organisations such as Global Witness, Survival International and Conflict Neutral, which monitor the trade in conflict or "blood" diamonds, say it is still impossible to trace any individual cut diamond and consequently to be certain whether a diamond is conflict-free. The whole business of diamond dealing and accreditation, particularly of polished stones, is complex, unstable and riddled with problems. The diamond industry implements minimum standards and warranties are still inadequate.

This arrogant use of diamonds for an art work at a time when the world is questioning the origin and implications of such gems is unethical. Perhaps what Mr Hirst calls this "crazy idea" could have been more thoughtfully achieved using synthetic gems. He would then have achieved real cred and made a more modern, visionary mark. All the misplaced statements from art historians and all the money invested into this traditionally crafted, empty piece do not compensate for the fact that this art work is heavy on the heart. Aesthetics aside, Mr Hirst appears driven to be the major player in what many consider to be a rather vulgar, macho, low point in art history.

One can only hope the future does not lie with this kind of art and art dealing, out of sync with progressive thinking, bigged up to the max, pandering to privileged ideals and perpetuating the sad fact that money talks.

Mr Hirst, his business partner Frank Dunphy and White Cube might do well to consider redressing the balance by giving a charitable donation (as businesses do) from the £50m the piece might sell for to one of the organisations mentioned above. Conflict Neutral recommends a donation of a minimum of 1% of the sale value to help finance its work in neutralising the harm and negative effects of diamonds sales. This has been suggested and we await the response. I, for one, will not hold my breath.

In the meantime, maybe the art work would be more aptly retitled For The Love of Money.

Link to The Herald : Features: LETTERS