Has Conceptual Art Jumped the Shark Tank?

Denis Dutton in the New York Times:

Hirst-shark Since the endearingly witty Marcel Duchamp invented conceptual art 90 years ago by offering his “ready-mades” — a urinal or a snow shovel, for instance — for gallery shows, the genre has degenerated. Duchamp, an authentic artistic genius, was in 1917 making sport of the art establishment and its stuffy values. By the time we get to 2009, Mr. Hirst and Mr. Koons are the establishment.

Does this mean that conceptual art is here to stay? That is not at all certain, and it is not just auction results that are relevant to the issue. To see why works of conceptual art have an inherent investment risk, we must look back at the whole history of art, including art’s most ancient prehistory.

It is widely assumed that the earliest human art works are the stupendously skillful cave paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet, the latter perhaps 32,000 years old, along with a few small realistic sculptures of women and of animals from the same period. But artistic and decorative behavior emerged in a far more distant past. Shell necklaces that look like something you would see at a tourist resort, as well as evidence of ochre body paint, have been found from more than 100,000 years ago. But the most intriguing prehistoric artifacts are much older even than that. I have in mind the so-called Acheulian hand axes.

More here.