Damien Hirst

Article excerpt


Having entered the arena of mass-media attention occupied by such titans of overexposure as Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst can cheerfully scoff at the modest claims of art criticism. For all the brickbats hurled at him, there is the critic's temptation to just say uncle, to agree to be amused if not absolutely charmed, to assert that, regardless of the apparent vulgarity of certain individual works, Hirst possesses that supremely uncritical attribute, "talent." The apparent "unoriginality" of his work--its reliance on Surrealist shock techniques and Minimalist presentational modes--doesn't detract from his brilliance as a Pop personage, a vendor of attitudes. Indeed, perhaps the best thing Hirst's work affords is an opportunity to consider the fortunes of the Pop-art attitude today. One can't deny Hirst his success, and not only as a star of the art world (and the world at large). But there remains a certain tedium in works that so relentlessly trade on bluntness, on the stratagems of morgue-and- autopsy horror. If disagreeing with Hirst on aesthetics proves fruitless, so too does a complacent embrace of his taste and mindset.

Hirst's exhibition at Gagosian, laboriously titled "Theories, Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results, and Findings," is much better than his 1996 show at the same venue, at least in a conventionally arty way. Unlike the carnivalesque, everything-about-Damien mess of '96, this exhibition is distinguished by a certain visual clarity; Hirst has styled the show very precisely. Pop and Minimalist signifiers mesh in an agreeably aesthetic way. Throughout the sprawling galleries, one leitmotif signals another, ceiling-high graphs echo rectilinear vitrines, bobbing Ping-Pong balls suggest spot paintings and even pills. Overall, it's a well-pulled-together outfit--and one that completely eschews the most signature Hirst element, animal carcasses in formaldehyde (he restricts himself here to skeletons).

We all know about Hirst's death fixation. As this is a commonplace preoccupation, it lends the artist currency in a way that the overlay of colors, say, or the institutional trappings of the art world do not. Nevertheless, it is too obvious. Visiting the gallery several times, one grows a little tired of thinking, Death, yeah, right. Most of the works, which are extremely tidy, are more conventionally pretty than they are gruesome. As framing devices, the omnipresent vitrines render almost everything agreeably pictorial. They provide "distance." (The really gross stuff--e.g., nasty forensic photographs--is confined to the exhibition catalogue.) In Adam and Eve (Banished From the Garden), 1999, the artist strains for horror, with two shrouded figures lying on gurneys amid the tools of the pathologist and, one assumes, the remains of his lunch, a half-eaten sandwich. …


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