4 April-9 September 2012
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There was a feeding frenzy on Level 3 at Tate Modern at the preview of the Damian Hirst retrospective by the world‘s press, clambering over each other with their assault cameras to get a clear shot of dead things in glass cases. An unkind observer might have likened it all to A Thousand Years 1990, which is, in simple terms, a hermetically-sealed glass case, containing a cow‘s head, blood, maggots, sugar, water and thousands of flies, both dead and alive. After all that buzzing, it was calming to look at the two fishy installations, Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purposes of Understanding (Left) 1991, and another with the same portentous title, only (Right) 1991.
It was even more calming to part the PVC strip curtains and enter Butterfly World, and have a green malachite sit on one‘s shoulder. We are told that Damien is preoccuped with momento mori, the themes and motifs of life and death, with the accompanying revelation that we all die eventually.
But let us start at the beginning. Hirst could not give a flying fish about what any critic says about him, least of all this one, as he has made a stash of money and will continue to hold down his trade name as the enfant terrible of British art as long as it pays the rent. He has cleverly employed a self-effacing, pre-emptive strike to difuse criticism by calling one of his giant spirograph paintings Beautiful, childish, expressive, tasteless, not art, over simplistic, throw away, kid‘s stuff, lacking in integrity, rotating, nothing but visual candy, celebrating, sensational, inarguably beautiful painting (for above the sofa) 1996.
Well, he‘s right on seven counts. The over simplistic spot paintings have been given pseudo-science titles that are designed to be oracular, if not opaque, as they have absolutley nothing to do with what is on the walls; a list of chemical compounds - Sulfisoxazole, Iodemethane- 13c, Caproaldehyde, etc. - chosen to elevate his daubs to something they are patently not.
The one painting that has any integrity at all is actually the first spot painting one he ever did, simply called Spot Painting 1986, which reminds one of those colour-blindness tests one took as a child. Again, titles of his pharmaceutical vitrines are contrived to baffle by bullshit - Holidays, Submission, Pretty Vacant, etc., as have the surgical instruments in glass cabinets, except one containing scalpels and scissors entitled Invasion, which is probably the only piece of wit in the entire show.
Anatomy of an Angel 2008, is beautifully sculpted in Carrara marble, with part of her body cut away to reveal her internal organs, femur and skull, recalling the sculptures of the colossally-talented Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, now living in Pietrasanta, a mere ten mikes from his favoured quarry.
The Tate organisers have cleverly ‘filled‘ the massive blacked-out Turbine Hall by sticking a 10m black cube in the middle of it, and in the middle of that, mounting Hirst‘s much-vaunted diamond-encrusted skull on a plinth. Allowing only 15 people in at a time, with a bag-search curiously at the point of entry, rather than exit, will ensure that enormous queues will build up during the day and keep the Hirst hype flying. T
hose who tire of queuing can always pick up a limited edition plastic skull sploshed with gloss paint in the shop for £36,800, or a 12-piece set of bone china butterfly plates for £10,500. It is uncertain whether there will be a frenzied rush for those, although one maybe should not underestimate the gullibilty of the gobe-mouches who have already bought into the brand.