Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern

This is a little late, as I went to see Damien Hirst’s exhibition at the Tate Modern on the opening day, but it is still on (till 9 September) and I recommend it, even to the Hirst sceptics.
I was too young to remember when the artist people love to hate, Damien Hirst, first catapulted onto the scene in 1988 (just born, to be precise). But now, nearly a quarter of a century later, he is inescapable in the art world.
Damien Hirst with For Heaven's Sake 2008. Photo: The Guardian
 His large exhibition at the Tate Modern (4 April-9 September, 2012 - £14) is the first substantial survey of his work in Britain and brings together key works from over twenty years - giving those who missed it first time round a unique opportunity to see iconic works such as his Natural History series. This includes The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991, in which Hirst suspended a shark in formaldehyde. This was one of the most popular items in the exhibition - as well as Mother and Child Divided (copy 2007, original 1993), in which a cow and calf are shown in halves, again in formaldehyde. The fascination was evident - with queue to see the ill-fated mammal’s inners.
Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991 Photo: my own)
Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991 Photo: my own
This is reflective of Hirst’s popularity, the queue on the opening day was long even for members and the excitement and hype was like no other exhibition I have been to.
The queue on the opening day of the exhibition. Photo: my own
So what draws the masses to the super rich artist’s works? His obsession with death hits you immediately, as you’re greeted with a photo of a smiling young Hirst next to a human head in the anatomy department of Leeds University (Dead Head, 1991), of which Hirst was a frequent visitor.
And that is only the start, sidle past the bloody cows head surrounded by flies (A Thousand Years 1990) and you’re met with a giant, stinking ash tray (Crematorium 1996) and a room full of medical instruments (Still 1995). Yes it’s death, more death and money that attracts the masses. But I was struck by the amount of children enjoying the works. The seemingly gory installations have a beauty and interactive nature perfect for the young and old alike.

A Thousand Years (detail) 1990
Crematorium 1996

The money and beauty aspect grows from the Pharmacy (1992) to the butterfly, spin and spot paintings until you’re met with full-blown bling of the diamond-filled cabinets (Isolation 2009-10). It’s hard to find Hirst’s death-obsession here. Are the sceptics right? Has this billionaire artist cynically exploited our collective greed and stupidity?

Isolation (2009-2010) Photo: my own
He told the Telegraph: “never let money get in the way of an idea” and luckily for him, he doesn’t have to. The works, especially towards the latter part of his career, are excessive in their cost. But despite their obsessive, gory over-opulence, there is something fun and intriguing about his works. But perhaps he’s got me too.

Outside For Heaven's Sake 2008


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