New Novel Imagines an Art World Without Damien Hirst

"Randall" by Jonathan Gibbs.

Looking for summer reading that will entertain you without turning your brain to mush? The Guardian suggests Jonathan Gibbs’s Randall, a novel that asks readers to consider a morbid but fascinating question: what if Damien Hirst had died in 1989? In Gibbs’ world, Hirst was hit by a train two years after graduating from Goldsmiths. His passing leaves room for another artist—Ian Randall Timkins, known simply as Randall—to take his place as the foremost Young British Artist and the arbiter of cool in 1990s London.

The story of Randall’s rise to the top of the art world is told by a close confidant in the wake of his untimely death in 2000. The narrator ventures to New York to console Randall’s widow, who soon after his passing discovers a trove of unknown works that depict the artist’s inner circle in a series of pornographic poses. And just as you’d hope, many of the fictional personalities bear resemblances to real life art world heavyweights, including art critic Brian Sewell.

Gibbs has no professional art world experience, but reviews books and film on his personal blog Tiny Camels, and for the Independent. His decision to focus on art for his debut novel harks back to his arrival in London as a starry-eyed 20-something. He told Isabel Costello, “When I came to London in my twenties to find the Young British Artists in royal ascendance—Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, the Chapman brothers—I was bowled over. What I loved about them was that they seemed to dispense with the history of art, and instead make something that spoke directly to me, then; just as directly as, say, MTV.”

Interesting then that the premise of his first novel would be to kill off one of his heroes. But surely he’s not the first to imagine the undoubtedly different landscape of a Hirst-less art world—he’s just the first to conjure up a believable replacement.

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