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at080923a.jpg Following last week's roller-coaster news – Wall Street in turmoil while London art auction sales for Damien Hirst exceeded $200 million – I couldn't help thinking about the mischievous Gods of Commerce and Art looking down from Mount Olympus at us mere mortals and giggling at our attempts to make sense of it all.

at080923b.jpg It's very tempting to see the unprecedented success of Sotheby's sales of Damien Hirst's works as proof of art's invincibility and staying power – something along the lines of ‘money is transient but art is forever.' But the real story is much more complex and cynical and in some ways mirrors what's happening in the financial sector. There were recent reports about the glut of expensive, unsold works by Mr. Hirst in the back rooms of many art galleries on both sides of the Atlantic. But at the same time, Mr. Hirst and his factory with its network of assistants continues to churn out thousands of new prints, paintings, and sculptures. To sell all that, the artist needs to expand his market and find new buyers. In an unusual move, he went directly to Sotheby's – over the heads of his dealers – offering the auction house more than two hundred of his artworks for sale, thus effectively cutting his dealers out entirely. His chutzpah paid off, and his clout - or is it a bubble? - got even bigger.

at080923c.jpg I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the success of this sale, but it's difficult for me not to feel slightly sorry for the buyers of Hirst's works, all these new collectors from China, Russia, and the Middle East. It's been a long time since I've been moved by his works, which have a tendency to dazzle with their execution but let you down with their emotional detachment, as if they were a sort of technical exercise. His art, with its thousands of diamonds and beautiful dead butterflies, makes me think about a bejeweled Celine Dion performing on a Las Vegas stage and expertly faking it all.

at080923e.jpgNow, back to Earth: to the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and 11th Street, to be precise. That's where over the weekend, Santa Monica College unveiled its new state-of-the-art theater, the 499-seat Broad Stage, an impressive and elegant freestanding structure designed by Renzo Zecchetto. Probably you already noticed this building, which in the evening has a wonderful warm glow, thanks to the dark wood details of its exterior. Inside, the austere lobby is dominated by a monumental, colorful metal collage by Tony Berlant, with its palpable sensation of ocean waves gently breaking on the beach.

at080923d.jpgBoth Renzo Zecchetto and Tony Berlant live and work in Santa Monica, along with several dozen other artists who are showcased nearby in the Santa Monica College Art Gallery adjacent to the Broad Stage. One hopes that this gallery continues to mount ambitious exhibitions and keep it open during evening performances, the way the Metropolitan Opera opened in its lobby a couple of years ago an art gallery, so hundreds of patrons during intermission are able to check out the rotating exhibitions there. There is great potential for this new theater and the next-door gallery to become a major cultural beacon for the city of Santa Monica.

And now, a small announcement. There will be no Art Talk for next two weeks, as I will be traveling to Berlin and Florence in search of more art and fresh and interesting stories to share with you. So sit tight: art goodies on the way.

Emphasis Santa Monica
On view at the Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery through October 18
SMC's Madison Campus
Santa Monica Blvd. & 11th St.
(310) 434-3434 or (310) 434 8204 SMC Events


Banner image: Tony Berlant, Continuously Playing, 2008; Found and fabricated printed tin collaged on plywood with steel brads, 10'x20'; Courtesy of LA Louver, Venice, CA

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