Monday, June 1, 2009

Damien Hirst turns to film with the art satire Boogie Woogie


Unchallenged as the supreme artist entrepreneur of his generation, Damien Hirst has also dabbled with varying degrees of success in charity work, pop music and the restaurant business.

Now he has turned his attention to films as the “art curator” for Boogie Woogie, a long-rumoured satire inspired by the triumphs and excesses of Hirst and his fellow Young British Artists. Although the film is fictional and the characters are invented, one key scene revolves around an exhibition of work by Hirst, which includes one original spin painting and reproductions of many other works, including several of his “biopsy paintings”.

The artist, best known for his series of dead animals pickled in formaldehyde and his spot paintings, also selected art works by Tracey Emin, Banksy and the Chapman brothers, among others, to inject added authenticity into the art gallery scenes.

The film is adapted by Danny Moynihan from his dark comic novel of the same name, which depicts the art world as an incestuous jungle inhabited by heartless agents, controversy-courting artists and corrupt dealers.

Moynihan is a genuine insider, having worked as an artist, curator and gallery manager in London and New York. So, too, is the director, Duncan Ward, who is married to the aristocratic curator Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst. Both men have been friends with Hirst for a long time. They describe Boogie Woogie as “a tongue-in-cheek look at the international art scene, in which lust, ambition and power prevail and where success and failure rest on a knife edge”.

The film stars Heather Graham, Jaime Winstone, Alfie Allen, Gillian Anderson, Charlotte Rampling, Joanna Lumley, Christopher Lee, Alan Cumming and Danny Huston.

Extracts have been screened privately in Cannes but the full film will not be shown until its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival next month, where it will compete for the Michael Powell Award for the Best New British Feature.

Hannah McGill, the director of the Edinburgh film festival, compared it to the ensemble films of Robert Altman: “What The Player did for Hollywood this is doing for the London art world.”

McGill likes Boogie Woogie “because it is extreme and edgy but not lurid or cynical”. She added: “It would be very easy to approach this subject as a cheap shot against the world of modern art. This does not discredit the art world. It portrays the glamour and excitement but pulls no punches portraying the bad guys.”

Several of the characters bear a passing resemblance to leading figures in the London art world: the ruthless art dealer at the centre of the plot wears distinctive glasses just like Jay Jopling, the owner of the White Cube galleries, while the female artist played by Winstone turns her own sex life into an artwork, just as Emin did with her tent Everyone I Have Ever Slept with 1963-1995. However, all the characters in Boogie Woogie are fictional.

For Hirst, film is just one more new frontier to conquer. He has raised millions of pounds for charity. He formed the band Fat Les with the actor Keith Allen and Alex James, of Blur, in 1998 and reached No 2 in the singles chart with their football chant Vindaloo. His restaurant ventures include an ill-fated partnership with the chef Marco Pierre White at Quo Vadis in Soho.

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