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#118 Other Criteria and #117 The Museum of Everything

October 17, 2011
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Postcards from Damien Hirst's 'Other Criteria' store. Wish you were here! In a skull!

Art and commerce, eh? Get your head around these two places, if you can.

On our right, we have a detail from Other Criteria, Damien Hirst’s shop in Marylebone. On the left, squeezing up the text a treat, we have the interior of The Museum of Everything at Selfridges.

Damien Hirst’s shop sells his own art and selected pieces by others. For £45, you can pick up a skull t-shirt with a choice of poison names stamped on the back. As well as £2,700 gilt skulls with pocket-watches for eyes, there are all kinds of postcards, stickers, ceramics, a pretty butterfly deckchair that could have snuck into Cath Kidston unnoticed, and lots of art books. One running theme seems to be the concept of the memento mori, the cheery reminder of death. While we were there, a huge and heavy coffee-table book tumbled from a high shelf, just missing us by inches. If that’s an installation, it’s a pretty good one.

The Museum of Everything in Selfridges. THOSE CRAZY GUYS!

The Museum of Everything is a collection of ‘outsider art’ produced by artists working outside the mainstream. Many of them have mental health issues or learning difficulties. All of them represent a rejection or confrontation with received ideas about art. Up to now, it’s been operating from a shack in Primrose Hill until this, the fifth collection in the series, which is taking up half Selfridge’s basement. In contrast to Hirst’s shop’s stark white gallery minimalism, The Museum of Everything is designed as artfully constructed bare-brick seaside sideshow. It’s quirky, yo. The art is naive, folksy, self-absorbed, sometimes reassuring and sometimes chilling. At the moment, huge and intricate displays of the art are filling Selfridge’s  windows, too.

Wait, what?

So on one hand, we have the UK’s most famous artist producing expensive everyday tat that looks rather nice in the home – and on the other, we have a temple of commerce co-opting therapeutic and difficult art to sell iPads, VSOP Brandy and Biba cardigans. And yet all this deserves to be seen.

There’s a Museum of Everything gift shop, too! Quite a large one. Is this still outsider art when it’s on a pillow or a branded apron? Are Hirst’s uncomfortable truths hopelessly compromised and diluted by their transmutation into high-end lifestyle products?

Is this some kind of massive and barefaced betrayal of art? Or is this, in fact, exactly where art needs to be in 2011? Hey, we just visit these places. Work it out for yourselves.

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