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Fancy Damien Hirst?

Posted May 21, 2012 in Articles

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. 1991 © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates
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If you have never heard about Damien Hirst, then you are two decades late to experience the full impact of his works. Yet, it is never too late to learn about a man who made it into the history of art.

Damien Hirst (b. 1965) started his career with Foundation Course at The Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds. Afterwards he moved to London and took a two-year gap labouring on London building sites. Finally, he started the BA course at Goldsmiths College which already had a reputation for abandoning traditional disciplines and propagating radical ideas.

Two years into the course, in 1989, Hirst curated the now famous Freeze exhibition in an abandoned Docklands warehouse that proved to be the beginning of YBA (Young British Artists).

By 1991, ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) gave him his first solo exhibition and he was nominated for the Turner Prize (the most prestigious British art award) the following year. Damien Hirst won the Turner prize in 1995.

Currently Tate Modern (UK’s premier modern art gallery) holds a retrospective of Hirst’s life works giving an excellent opportunity to discover one of the cultural Olympiad figures.

Recommended works: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) – a shark in formaldehyde with threatening open jaws;  Mother and Child Divided (original 1993) – a bisected cow and a calf encased in formaldehyde and then placed in glass boxes side by side; A Thousand Years (1990) – cow’s head lying in the pool of congealed blood and flies buzzing around with the corpses of the zapped ones piling up under the insect-cuter; For the Love of God(2007) – a diamond-encrusted skull.

The exhibition is curated by Ann Gallagher.

Until 9 September.

Tons of people rush to see the exhibition at Tate Modern. Damien Hirst – the UK’s National Pride, the international celebrity, one of the richest living artists in the world.

The exhibition is well organised and displays Hirst’s major oeuvre. Yet, there are only few works that two decades later still maintain the same power over the spectator. Namely, the shark (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991), bisected cow and a calf (Mother and Child Divided, original 1993) and a box full of flies swarming around a cow’s head (A Thousand Years, 1990). This threesome still compels the eye and mind generating infinite interpretive possibilities. The rest is simply boring: repetitive colourful-dot paintings, paint-poured-over-spinning-canvas paintings, beach balls hovering over vents, a line of raw sausages in a case, cases full of cigarette butts, pharmacy-like installations, a recreated installation of humid room with butterflies fluttering around potted plants and fruit bowls, and so on. Watching them is like solving the same crossword twice. It might be the curse of conceptual art, but looking at the photographs, reading the labels and contemplating the conception would just do the trick. In comparison, do you really need to see Duchamp’s urinal over and over again to embed the idea that any object in the gallery space might be art if the artist says so?

Hirst is renowned for two subjects – the correlation of life and death, and art as business. The latter appears with all the absurd theatrical pathos: a diamond-encrusted skull is displayed inside a dark room, flanked by two security guards. Unwritten marketing messages run across the mind: This is the most expensive contemporary art work and Hirst owns it; This is the most impressive contemporary art work and you must respect it; This is an object you envy, thus it has to be guarded; Damien Hirst is The Artist; Damien Hirst is The Art. It is an irritating spectacle of flaunting with one’s wealth and importance.

So what is so fascinating about Damien Hirst? Why do people queue up to see it? It seems to me that more then anything people want the see the legend, the myth, the story of success, fame, and fortune. As if all that was imbedded in the objects, as if some of his celebrity could rub in one’s own skin just by attending the exhibition, as if Hirst was the role model of a creative person in contemporary world.

I find the present Damien Hirst phenomenon nauseating.

By Raminta Bumbulyte


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