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January 1992. (10*20*30).

Ten years ago this month, Michael Corris introduced Damien Hirst to Artforum's readers in the seventh installment of "Openings," a recurring feature launched the previous year. Senior editor ERIC C. BANKS looks back at Hirst's legacy--and that of the series.

ONE OF THE WAYS MAGAZINE EDITORS wrest control of the weekly or monthly cycle is by introducing regular columns and serial features. The architecture of a periodical may not be all that obvious to readers, but a recurring feature makes possible two felicities: from the reader's perspective, a more familiar, easier-to-negotiate product; for the editors, an enhanced capacity to commission articles in a timely fashion.

When Artforum inaugurated its now longest-running feature, "Openings," in May 1991, with an essay by current editor Jack Bankowsky (heralding the work of Karen Kilimnik), a third benefit accrued: a critical space for coverage of an emerging generation of artists--coverage that had yet to find its place among the lengthier features in the magazine. Over the next twelve months some of the biggest contemporary-art headliners of the '90s, including Matthew Barney, Jack Pierson, and Andrea Fraser, would take center stage for the first time.

Among these early offerings was a twentyfive-year-old British sensation whose renown for provocation had crossed the ocean ahead of his work. The Bristol-born, Goldsmiths-educated Damien Hirst had already made a name for himself with his choreography of the 1988 group show "Freeze," which would serve as an "Openings" of sorts for the art of Cool Britannia. A 1991 ICA London survey secured Hirst's reputation--a tender two years after he picked up his diploma.

A decade ago in these pages critic Michael Corris introduced a man who any toastmaster would tell you needed no introduction. The London-based art writer wasted no time in getting to the big theme: Describing A Thousand Years, 1990, he wrote, "An 800-cubic-foot rectangular glass-and-steel vitrine, supplied with a quantity of hatching maggots, nutrient solutions, one skinned cow head, and an ultraviolet electronic fly-killer, comprises the clinical environment for a microdrama of survival that begs comparison with the experience of free-market-driven social life in Britain today." Lesser targets, but barely so, are cited: Parsonian sociological discourse, the ideology of science, "the Faustian vanity of the Beuysian trope of the artist." Ultimately Corris arrives at this formulation: "I believe Hirst's persona of the esthete is a shadow of Romanticism, an indication of his belief that it is the most effective role to assume in the struggle against social art.... The esthete's progress is not an idle voyage, b ut one that must always be taken to the extreme, otherwise rationality will never release its grip on sensual life."

Many will regard this critical take on Hirst to be largely beside the point. The notorious difficulty of writing about many of the Young British Artists has always been the Hobson's choice of approaching them with somber detachment and overshooting the runway or, alternatively, treating them on their own terms and never really going anywhere at all. To detractors, the story of Hirst's art has always offered a buffet of bad faith: It is an allegory of the course that the art world took in the '90s, the emergence of the authority of the collector, the politics of careerism that is alleged to be the true legacy of art in the decade. Throw in shock value as a form of facture and self-promotion as a calling card, and the plate is full. Had Damien Hirst not existed, wouldn't we have needed to invent him?

As the "Openings" series became more institutionalized in our pages, it may at times have seemed inseparable from these sundry conditions. A recent '90s survey, LA MOCA's "Public Offerings," argued that the infatuation with the emerging artist has inflected the way art is produced, exhibited, and valued. The title of that show drew a comparison between such symptomatic blips as "Openings" and the speculative frenzy of an initial public offering. But it is too easy to consider the subsequent fortunes of "Openings" artists as little more than self-fulfilling prophecy. (As if!) Indeed, some have more closely resembled Enron than eBay. Whatever became of Asse (February '92) or Betty Bee (December '94)? Where have you gone, Chris Isner (March '93)? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Ted Byfield takes the Edison Lighthouse award for ultimate one-hit wonder, albeit one of the coolest, eschewing an artist's career just after appearing (with collaborator Lincoln Tobier) in the May '94 issue.

A thousand years, ten years, fifteen minutes... The lesson isn't so much that fame is fickle. In a season of uncertainties, who can guess what work will stand the test of time? Life is short, art long, and the business of an art magazine is to meet the sharks along the way.

In this ongoing series, Artforum looks back on an essay of note from our pages ten, twenty, or thirty years ago to the month.
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Title Annotation:Damien Hirst
Author:Banks, Eric C.
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Previous Article:David Byrne. (Top Ten).
Next Article:Eva Hesse: San Francisco museum of modern art.

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