Magazine of art press and reviews from London
“Damien Hirst” retrospective at Tate Modern.
David Franchi – Thusday, 21st June 2012
“Damien Hirst” is the first extensive exhibition ever held in the UK about the best paid British artist.
Damien Hirst is widely regarded as one of the most important working artist today. He has created some of the most iconic artworks in recent history. The Tate Modern exhibition is a survey of his innovative work spanning through two decades from the beginning of his career to recent days. It brings together over seventy of his prominent works. It also forms part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.
Damien Hirst first came to public attention in 1988 when he conceived and curated ‘Freeze’, an exhibition of his own work and those of his friends and fellow Goldsmiths College students, staged in a disused London warehouse. Many of the works he created at that time are on display at Tate Modern for the first time since the 1980s.
The exhibition “Damien Hirst” is organised in a chronological order, presenting early works – for example ‘Spot painting’ (1986), ‘8 pans’ (1987) and ‘Boxes’ (1988) – made using the collage technique that allowed Hirst to reconciling painting and sculpture, while the process of selecting and arranging existing objects allowed him to structure his work.
Another of his themes is the Medical Cabinets. “Damien Hirst” displays some good examples,
including the first work ‘Sinner’ (1988), made of the prescription his grandmother had given to him before she died. Following works were made of pristine pharmaceutical packaging. ‘Pharmacy’ (1992) is a room with an extensive multi-part installation expanding to replicate the environment of a pharmacy within a gallery setting. Medicine Cabinets are an indirect way of thinking about the body.
From the Medical Cabinets to the Surgical Cabinets is a small leap and, indeed, Tate Modern shows a room arranged like a surgery filled with medical, surgical and anatomical equipment, showing works such as ‘Lapdancer’ (2006).
Wincing but more relaxed people could be seen again facing the Spin Paintings, works made with household gloss paint, such as ‘Beautiful, childish, expressive, tasteless, not art, over simplistic, throw away, kid’s stuff, lacking integrity, rotating nothing but visual candy, celebrating, sensational, inarguably beautiful painting (for over the sofa)’ (1996). Damien Hirst used a mechanical process to create these works – each canvas is pun on a turntable while different coloured paints are poured on the rotating canvas from above.
Another very renowned piece – but in the meantime dismaying – on show at the Tate Modern exhibition is ‘A thousand years’ (1990). This is the first work of Damien Hirst where an arrangement of components is enclosed within a glass vitrine. It contemplates a life cycle, with maggots and the scandalous cut cow’s head together with the remains of a barbecue, carrion food and industrial packaging.
From the beginning Damien Hirst has produced works encompassed in the Natural History series, including a sheep’s head ‘Stimulants (and the way they affect the mind and the body) (1991), a whole sheep ‘Away from the flock’ (1994), or the famous scaring real shark ‘The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living’ (1991). All of the latter are real animals immersed in a formaldehyde solution and contained in a glass display case, a brand of Hirst’s work. It can be seen in other rooms at the Tate Modern exhibition, including the last piece on show ‘The incomplete truth’ (2006), a dove which seems to fly, or ‘Mother and child divided’ (2007) – a cow and a calf both severed in two and the four parts put in four different cases and it is possible to pass in the middle of it seeing the entrails.
In another room Damien Hirst installed ‘Crematorium’ (1996) a huge ashtray with cigarettes butts and sand and, as it is a real one, rank. Cigarettes are used in others works, such as ‘Dead ends died out, examined’ (1993).
After all these heavy forms of art expression, to soothe visitors the most colourful but live installation is the room ‘In and out of love (white paintings and live butterflies) (1991) which is a humid environment containing living butterflies that fly around freely and live out their natural life cycle. It is a sort of artificial paradise, where pupae are delivered three times a week and butterflies are fed with fruit or pollen, depending on their species. Walls are bestrewed with the cocoons of these delicate living things that flap at joyous people in bright clothes. Butterflies theme is also used in other Damien Hirst’s works on display, for example ‘Sympathy in white major – Absolution II‘ (2006).
Last but – of course – not least is ‘For Love of God’ (2007). The iconic diamond –covered skull is on show in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, free entrance. This life-size platinum cast of an eighteen century human skull covered by 8,061 flawless diamonds, inset with the original skull teeth. At the front of the cranium is a 52.4 carat pink diamond. Since it was first displayed in 2007, it has been widely recognised has one of the most significant work of contemporary art.
This last piece as the entire production of Damien Hirst represents his continued interest in life and death, and belief and value systems, resounding the biblical Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven. His whole production is obviously doomed by his Catholic background, despite he proclaims to be a sceptic, and it is absolutely clear to be seen in his works, especially for the ones displayed at Tate Modern. However, the production of Hirst has become more pretentious over the years; it seems he begins to slightly lack inventive and to address himself more to the market than to the art.
Born in Bristol (UK) in 1965, Damien Hirst lives and works in London and Devon. He has been a media topic for the last two decades since he has emerged from the British art scene in the 1990s.
In these days, Hirst is once again hitting the world headlines because of the separation from Maia Norman – the mother of his three children. She had started a relationship with Colonel Tim Spicer, a former soldier and mercenary now running a security firm, who was paid £22.5 million to suppress a rebellion in Papua New Guinea in 1997. Hirst declared to be devastated, but Mr. Spicer’s ex-wife, Caroline, replied he is looking for “bad publicity”. Miss Norman may be entitled to very little of Hirst’s £215 million fortune because the couple never married.
Side of the gossip, every little thing about Damien Hirst has been deeply scanned by media. Despite
of it, the reputation of Hirst has always been poor and low in respect. The opinion of ordinary people is that Hirst is very rich because he was able to cunningly manipulate the people and the market. It is odd, but he himself presents his public persona as artfully too.
Nowadays, many critics still debate if ‘this is art or not’. Tate Modern retrospective should finally draw a line about it. Damien Hirst is a real serious artist, maybe with difficulties to manage his commercial dark side. He is a ‘maudit artist’, an accursed artist so to say, neglected by contemporaries but worshipped by many and object of investment, even in this side representing our society.
Damien Hirst said: “We have been planning this show for so long I can’t believe it’s finally happening – I think I was avoiding looking back but now I’ve done it it’s exciting! It’s nearly twenty-five years of my life. There is something for everyone and I’m glad people will get the opportunity to see my work and judge for themselves.”
Sponsored by the Qatar Museums Authority, the exhibition provides a journey through two decades of Hirst’s inventive practice. It also forms part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.
“Damien Hirst” is curated by Ann Gallagher, Head of Collections (British Art), Tate, with Loren Hansi Momodu, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern and is coordinated by Sophie McKinlay, Project Manager, Tate Modern.
From 4th April until 9th September 2012.
At Tate Modern, Southbank, London.