Damien Hirst Retrospective at Tate Modern in London

Damien Hirst: 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' of 1991 installation view; © Damien Hirst courtesy Tate Modern


Tate Modern features the first museum retrospective of YBA-frontman Damien Hirst in UK. We take this occasion to investigate the phenomenon Damien Hirst.



Damien Hirst as an Artist




We think, from a purely aesthetic point of view, Mr. Hirst most importantly can take credit that he took minimal art further, from very formal questions, deeply into existential human issues, such as life and death.



We still really like these pieces:

  • ‘A Thousand Years’ of 1990,
  • ‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’ of 1991
  • ‘In and Out of Love’ of 1991, or
  • ‘Far from the Flock’ of 1994


These are some of the best works of this time and the effect of seeing these works together in one exhibition is striking. Though one is prepared for a perfect mise-en-scene and impeccable effects, the works still functions spot on. Hirst’s art is deadly serious in guise of the contemporary cultural.



Spin painting by (c) Damien Hirst courtesy of Tate Modern




Damien Hirst however, seems to have become a victim of his own tremendous economic success: We think he was not able to fulfill the enormous demand for ever more works with pieces, that matched the artistic quality of these early works.


In 2005 Damien Hirst was asked in an interview by Mirta D’Argenzio for the catalogue of his 2005 retrospective in Naples, Italy, how he would consider his ‘spin paintings’:



‘I don’t know. I think they are probably the weakest aspect of my work. I love it when the machine is turning, but as soon as they are dry and stop I get bored very quickly of them. If I had one on my wall I would turn it. (...) What do you think of them? Shit!’



There is nothing to add. We also don’t like the spot paintings: They are primarily an artsy status symbol with a decorative quality, but we cannot see a real theoretic foundation for the necessity of these works.


And we don’t think that a parallel show of all spot paintings (1986 – 2011) in all global branches of Gagosian Gallery and the media coverage of critics traveling to see all these shows do make them even better paintings.




As reaction to a personal crisis in 2007, Mr. Hirst gave up drinking and re-started classic oil painting by himself. In fall 2009, he showed his first entirely self-painted show at the Wallace Collection in London. Critically, it was a disaster - however his dealers managed to sell some of these canvasses for 7 digit numbers.


Tate Modern curators pay tribute to this point of view as, they made a rigid selection in favour of aesthetic criteria and completely left out Hirst’s recent self-made paintings.


(c) Damien Hirst courtesy by Tate Modern


Damien Hirst as Successful Business Man


In general, if you want to make money from selling things, you can either sell few items for very high prices, or you can sell many items for lower prices. Damien Hirst does it all: He sells on one end his tanks and sculptures for 8 digit numbers and on the other end lots of merchandising (from mass editions of skulls to t-shirts) starting from a few bucks.


His economic masterpiece was 'Beautiful inside my Head Forever': In 2008, Damien Hirst successfully sold off his entire stock in a famous Sotheby's auction. Ironically, the auction took place at the same day, when Lehman Investment Bank filed for bankruptcy. This day marked the end of the first art market boom in this Millennium.



London outlet of Other Criteria (c) PAS


With ‘Other Criteria’ Damien Hirst created his own retail chain selling his mass-editions and art related merchandise. From an art historic point of view most of the items sold there are at least rather questionable. But from a business point of view it is very reasonable to meet a demand that exists.


As what concerns Hirst’s latest project as entrepreneur, his buying up of a row of five warehouses just across the Tames from Tate Britain to build a large gallery and to have office space, chances are high that this will be a success. From 2014 onwards, Hirst is going to show his collection as well as own works there and the two shops and the restaurant will do the rest.


Finally, we would like to emphasize that there is much criticism about the quality of Damien Hirst’s work, much of it with reason. On the other hand, Hr. Hirst can claim that he created some of the best known art images (shark in a tank, diamond skull, …) world-wide.


Who else can say that?




Julia Loeschl & UGL



Damien Hirst at Tate Modern, London, UK

Trough 9th September 2012





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