Monday, 9 April 2012

Birth and Death

I went to see Damien Hirst's show at Tate Modern yesterday. I did my fine art degree at Goldsmiths and he was in the year above me. At the end of each year you have to help one of the final year students put up their degree show, and I helped Damien. His work was always really good, and he was a very funny and charismatic young man, but nobody could have guessed at the incredible success he has found

I wrote my degree thesis on the subject of Alchemy, the art and science of changing base materials into precious ones. It seems to me that Damien has epitomised this concept and the retrospective show at Tate Modern is literally a walk-through demonstration of it

The exhibition begins with a charming and totally innocent piece he made in 1987 (while I was at college with him) called 8 Pans (pictured above). It then proceeds through all his iconic work like spot paintings and sharks and through to his work with gold and diamonds and all the excesses he now represents and enjoys

It's a horrible journey and the curators of this show have managed to present his work in a way that, for me, deteriorates both aesthetically and conceptually with each room you walk through. Eventually you reach a shop at the end where you can buy Hirst-branded things like deck chairs and T-Shirts and suddenly you realise the appalling commercialisation of the art world today, and his place in it. I actually really like a lot of his work and was hoping for a much more inspiring show. Instead I felt like one of his doomed butterflies

So it was very relieving to take a look at Yayoi Kusama's strange and beguiling world, especially her magical infinity room:


  1. The complexity of emotions you issue on the Hirst event is fascinating. It seems that he has traversed the full continuum of art from naivety to pure, unbridled capitalism. Your perspective gives you a rare insight to the problem of making an income with art. We all want to make an income to live with with our art, but once a certain factor of wealth is passed, and Hirst is well beyond it, there is a point where the artist is co-opted into the machine of capitalism, which has no use for art.

    The vitriol with which Hirst is regarded in the press [see Julian Spalding's recent attack, among others] seems to indicate sour grapes or at least envy of Hirst's fortune. With conceptual art, there is always the thought that one is being "duped" by a clever trickster by the general public and this becomes outrage on the part of artists who have not strayed as far from the traditional "draftsman" role as Hirst has. Speaking as one who has no problem at rendering reality with my hands in numerous media, I actually prefer conceptual art. I value provocative ideas about society and our relationship to it that are reflected in works that hidebound establishment usually rejects up front. At a certain point, art can become poetry when it is creating new questions and juxtapositions of emotion in a way that the most beautiful rendering of a bowl of fruit cannot. When big money gets involved, though, the party is over.