1988 … Year zero

… when branding and art formed a marriage of convenience, argues artist John Kelly.

1988 is the seminal year, the year that our concepts of art, money and values changed irredeemably.

It was the year I came to London as a 23-year-old artist, having taken an opportunity to play league cricket in London. It was a chance for a young Melbourne man to explore his ancestry and the art and culture of Europe while enjoying the quintessential English game. I would set off in the morning, along the Boundary Road, then lunch in the pavilion at Lord’s, and finally off to the Tate Gallery, only interrupted by comedian Harry Enfield’s 1988 ‘Loadsa Money’ character. Enfield pointed up the greed and vulgarity of a changing society. Gordon Gekko was another;

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

But the film that made ‘loadsa money’ in 1988 was not Wall Street; it was Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Rain Man is about a performance car salesman yuppie named Charlie (Cruise), who is furious when his estranged father’s estate, worth millions, is bequeathed to a mental institution. To his shock, he learns he has a brother in the care of that institution. The brother, Raymond (Hoffman), is an ‘autistic savant’ whose obsession with airline safety records results in a cancelled flight and a road trip across the United States.

Cruise personified the yuppie – the young upwardly mobile, urban professional who in the late 1980s began to inhabit all spheres of life, including sport and the arts. The rise of the yuppie was the result, to some extent, of the creep of managerialism, a business philosophy that spread across

the globe through government and business. Master of Business Administration (MBA) programmes churned out thousands schooled in a scientific approach to management.

“Managerialism is the belief that organisations have more

similarities than differences, and thus the performance of all organisations can be optimised by the application of generic

course Wall Street was aware that decades of marketing and brand bolstering added value to a company over and above its assets and total annual sales. But with the Kraft purchase, a huge dollar value had been assigned to something that had previously been abstract and unquantifiable – a brand name.” (Klein, Naomi. No Logo, Picador books, 1999.)

1988 is such a seminal year because of the changes not only in business practices but also in politics. After the cricket season had ended in England, I was wandering around the galleries of Europe while the Iron

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Lady made her Bruges speech on Britain’s relationship with Europe. This is widely seen as the birth of Conservative Euro-scepticism. As she travelled home, Margaret Thatcher read Sir Roy Griffiths’s report, commissioned by her government, on the

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National Health Service. It was

wrote his essay and on the last day of one of his few solo exhibitions, Fairhurst ran away to Scotland, where, in a wood, he hanged himself.

Ever since Irving Stone’s 1934 novel Lust for Life, art, money and psychosis have been closely related. Google the words ‘creativity’ and ‘mental illness’ and you will find a plethora of musicians, writers, painters and the odd comedian who all

paid the price of their creativity. The list is not exhaustive. Currently on show at the Tate Modern are Damian Hirst and Yayoi Kusama. Hirst has said:

“There are so many different ideas it can often feel like the outpourings of an insane mind.” (www.damienhirst.com/texts/2009/feb–takashi-murakami)

And The Guardian newspaper reported:

“Kusama’s work cannot be disentangled from the mental health problems she has experienced. She admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital when she returned to Tokyo from the US in the early 1970s and from 1977 has lived voluntarily on /* xin2 */ an open ward, building a studio across the street and commuting back and forth on a daily basis.” (Brown, Mark. Yayoi Kusama arrives at Tate Modern with a polka at Damien Hirst. 7/2/2012: www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign)

Kusama is in her eighties and has had a signature style – dots – since before Hirst was born. She was asked about Hirst’s dots. She replied:

“… I am very happy that the polka dots that I started using have become a symbol of love and peace around the world with everyone joining

Airways for using coloured dots in its company advertising, which didn’t lead to the courts, but only to more publicity.

Having, since 1988, used the press to create name recognition – the brand – by the mid-1990s Hirst realised he needed someone from outside the art world to help him exploit his commercial potential. He found this person in Frank Dunphy, an Irish businessman who trained as an accountant. It is a perfect example of managerialism. Dunphy seemed to know little about art, but was expert at extracting favourable contracts for his showbiz clients. In a recent interview (My Life in a Spin, Tim Marlow in conversation with Frank Dunphy. Chichester Art lecture series 2011) he spelt out how he saw ‘Damien Hirst’ as a ‘brand’ he had helped create and commercialise. Dunphy instigated the Pharmacy and later the Sotheby’s auctions, and says his business acumen was instrumental in Hirst’s work becoming intrinsically linked to and defined by its ability to create ‘loadsa money’.

For Hirst  this was important:

“…I had no money as a kid and so I was maybe a bit more motivated than the rest. I used

to argue with Angus [Fairhurst] and Sarah [Lucas] about that all the time when we were starting out and struggling. They’d say: ‘You’re obsessed’ and I’d be like, ‘It’s important’.” (O’Hagan, Sean. Damien Hirst: ‘I still believe art is more powerful than money’. The Guardian, 11/3/2012)

He put it more succinctly when he said:

“Money is massive.”

Hirst is no longer a YBA: he is a middle-aged artist embraced by art institutions. If you look at Hirst through orange-tinted glasses, he resembles Alex Delarge in Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange. The 1988 Freeze exhibition of young artists casts Hirst as the “…leader of a gang of Droogs: he is clearly the most intelligent and fearless, and the one who comes up with most of the ideas.”

Hirst’s journey from punk artist to global brand is not unlike Delarge’s metamorphosis from dysfunctional youth to an instrument of government.

The Blair government’s experimental programme in the late 1990s was ‘Cool Britannia’, which was begat by ‘Creative Britain’, an earlier government strategy that saw the YBAs used, along with Britpop, to promote Britain.

Creative Britain was an explicit campaign to brand the UK a ‘cool’, creative place to be. The Culture Secretary of the day was quoted as trying to define the government’s relationship with creativity:

“What it can do is try to nurture it, encourage it, aid its expression, help it achieve maximum impact, and assist society at large in the understanding and appreciation of what is created.”

These ideas went global. Australia picked up on this trend and in 2001 Prime Minister John Howard launched a report (prepared by Saatchi and Saatchi), Australians and the Arts. Howard declared that the arts needed to “better communicate”, but went further by saying he wanted the Australia

Council and the report to “…mould the presentation of