Damien Hirst has continued his druggie/pardee/easy-teasy relationship with the unfortunate non-Damien Hirst World this week by – as is his want? – TAKING OVER. He has gone smotheringly, ballistically wider and in your facier than his previous bigtime best, by commandeering space in 11 Gagosian galleries around the world simultaneously. As always with the regal brit-popper, beneath this cultural blitzkrieg there is that subversive prickle within the detail – some of the works being provocatively titled, with hallucinogenic associations
Paintings being exhibited are entirely appropriate to the Hirst-obsession with WHAT THE MARKET WILL TAKE. So this current ruse of (imagined?) flooding or testing our/THE MARKET’S capacity to engage is what it’s about. As much as the paintings are. Again. Arguably.
This may on the one hand be a perfectly acceptable creative response, honourably reflecting Hirsts’s entirely legitimate and punkily energised worldview; (that) the Art Market is obscene/absurd/necrophiliac and it must be defrocked, demystified and disembowelled in a creative and entertaining way. Or it may be another lazy spin of another formula designed at the Hirst Ruse Emporium, centreing again on his own importance; or does it challenge that too?
Hirst knows that the scale of the project and of his celebrity tanks these paintings in formaldehyde. Indeed if a shocking generalisation were to crop up here it might be that Hirst’s ouevre is relentlessy concerned with his knowingness. But in my view it would still be foolish to underestimate either his integrity or his concern with the making of worthwhile art. Thus my own sloganeering is more in sympathy than in irony.
Interestingly, Adrian Searle in today’s Guardian seems clear that there is no discernible benefit to looking at these paintings as individuals – suggesting I think that this offers little reward, or no individual unique viewing experience, even though they are hugely different in dimension and subtly different in colour(s). I disagree. (If you are unaware of the nature of the paintings, now might be the time for me to tell you that they are all ‘spot paintings’ – arrangements of coloured dots along an imaginary grid system. ‘Traditionally’, they are the kind of (arguably) abstract or conceptual painting that might demand a degree of contemplation from the viewer.)
I think the artist may argue that it is a travesty to suggest these paintings are in any way ALL THE SAME. I think, however, that he seeks to lever out that very response, at whatever level, from his punter. Hirst is standing again on the chest of the Market, crow-barring open its ribcage for fleeing or inveigling opinions – offensive or otherwise – to worm a way in or out. The paintings – all made by assistants, I believe – are both a challenge as an understood group AND as individuals AND as a relevance (or otherwise.) They are not to be dismissed without due consideration because that is a purpose of all art; to demand or engineer consideration.
So look at these paintings. Allow yourself to feel them. Is there anything there for you? If so, what? Have fun trying to work that out! If nothing alights, firstly look some more then consider whether they make a contribution – uplifting/degrading or bland or quietly humming? – to an individual moment, or to an easy or a teasy conversation you might have… after too much wine, or some drugs maybe, at a noisy metropolitan party.