Damien Hirst Spot The Difference

Damien Hirst

Gagosian opens 11 simultaneous exhibitions of Damien Hirst’s Spot Paintings internationally: we review the London offering

Damien Hirst has been given a hard time throughout his career, whether its David Hockney lashing out at the army of assistants working for Hirst Inc., or one of the many critics lampooning his work as lightweight one-liners.  So surely, you would be forgiven for thinking, this major new exhibition of Hirst’s Spot Paintings – the most pooh pooh-ed series of all his works – can only serve to fan the flames of disgruntlement, highlighting the essential emptiness at the heart of his practice? But, incredibly, you would be wrong.

For one thing, the scale of this international exhibition alone is an impressive feat. Having teamed up with his long-term dealer Larry Gagosian, Hirst presents us with 11 simultaneous exhibitions worldwide, flooding the art capitals of the world with his spot paintings, from London to Hong Kong, Beverly Hills to New York, Paris to Rome. This amounts to over 300 paintings, with over 50% having been sourced from private collectors and museums (involving more than 150 different lenders from twenty countries), while the rest are on sale for undisclosed prices.

It  was only as images began to circulate on Twitter of Damien Hirst flinging his cap in the air with glee at the New York opening earlier today, that it became clear what a coup ‘The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011’ really is. This might as well be international ‘Damien Hirst Day’; and, with his major retrospective at the Tate Modern fast approaching, 2012 is ‘The Year of Damien Hirst’.

But it’s not only the sheer scale of the operation that denies even the most hardened critic the opportunity to live up to their name. Of course, the idea and process behind a spot paining is easy enough:

1)    Take matt white canvas (of varying shapes and sizes).

2)    Add glossy spots of varying colours in regular rows/columns.

3)    And repeat (or, in this case, get others to repeat … over 300 times)

But together, Damien Hirst’s spot paintings make a wonderful kind of sense – not only as a maniacal ode to pill-popping and the powers of mass productions, but also as an experience. Walking through the gallery, it becomes clear that this was how the works are meant to exhibited, with the paintings en masse drowning the viewer in a happy-happy hyped-colour onslaught. Here too, detectable for the first time, is a revelation of subtlety, the set-up fostering within the viewer a hair-trigger sensitivity to minute formal and impressionistic differences between works. With these realisations, gone is all legitimacy of complaints about factory manufacture (*cough* David *cough* Hockney): without the Hirst-funded conveyor belt diligently grinding on, such a display would never have been possible.

And anyhow, surely the artworld intelligentsia would want to avoid any discussions of time-to-quality ratio in art creation. For his critics, there seems to be one rule for Hirst – the artist everybody loves to hate – and another for the canon; if the sorts of accusations levied at king YBA were to applied with a broad brush, most of the fruits of Modernism must be dismissed out of hand, while figures such as Andy Warhol (the great pioneer of factory-created art) become the devil incarnate. Anyone want to call that one?


, ,