The media have had a field day over Damien Hirst’s attack on the
Royal Academy. He has refused to join the RA, describing it as the ’big,
fat, stuffy, old, pompous institution’, and the last thing he would want
to do. The story even appeared on the front page of the Daily
Very good timing for Hirst who launched his first book this week at the
premium price of pounds 59.99. But what does it mean for the RA, its
reputation and the new exhibition, Sensation, opening on 18 September?
Is it a public relations disaster?
The Royal Academy is looking to modernise its image and probably appeal
to a wider audience (does this sound like New Labour?). On the surface,
having Damien Hirst ridicule it, the move forward seems to have taken a
few steps back. However, his comments come as no surprise; he is
renowned for being controversial and he is a good self-publicist (which
is precisely why his more sensational works of art take centre stage).
And after all, which modern artist or movement has ever wanted to join
He has merely delivered the expected.
As for the Royal Academy, the media coverage has highlighted the fact
that the body is making determined efforts to update itself and tap into
avant garde thinking - by persisting to ask not one, but two modern
artists to join (Rachel Whiteread earlier this year). Albeit
Furthermore, the exhibition itself has received more column inches via
Damien Hirst’s comments than it otherwise may have received. It is
described as the biggest exhibition of contemporary British art, which
positions the RA exactly where it wants to be - at the cutting edge of
art. And the emphasis is placed on Hirst’s more ’sensational’ works on
display, such as the preserved shark, a cow sliced into 12 sections, a
bifurcated pig and a sheep in a display case.
All in all, Damien Hirst’s attack and subsequent controversy has created
a ’must see’ factor for the exhibition and therefore a very successful
way to pull in the crowds - which is precisely what the RA’s PR and
business objective is.
Not to forget, excellent PR for Hirst’s book which will undoubtedly see
an increase in sales as a result of the media interest! So, in fact, a
happy PR ending - a win-win situation for all.