Saturday, May 4, 2013

What’s so (not) special about Damien Hirst’s spot paintings?

Damien Hirst, born in 1965 in Bristol, England, had attained fame for his unique oeuvre and shows across the world, including solos ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples (2004); ‘A Selection of Works from Various Collections’, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2005); Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo (2005); ‘For the Love of God’, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2008); ‘No Love Lost’, The Wallace Collection, London (2009); ‘Requiem’, Pinchuk Art Center, Kiev (2009); and ‘Cornucopia’, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (2010).

The celebrated artist received the Turner Prize in 1995. His work is included in many important public and private international collections. However his recent showcase has failed to impress and enthuse all. For example, in a rather critical review of the project, Roberta Smith of The New York Times notes that the quality of the whole extravaganza tends to mirror is like his career - up-and-down.

Yet it’s a touch paradoxical considering the narrow focus. Hirst is showing nothing but just fields of enamel dots, those smooth discs of color applied to canvases in orderly grids at intervals equal to the discs’ diameter. They can be any color, except that they can’t repeat on any given white canvas (although they come extremely close); the people making the works choose the colors.

The critic pointedly mentions that relentless evenness of technique and formula reflects the artist’s stated desire to make works, which seem to have been done by a machine. Yet what’s really striking is the variations, the unevenness, of both touch and finish, and the manner in which these spot paintings do that usual Hirst thing even within their narrower confines: they swing from good to ordinary. Some are wonderful; some aren’t paintings in a sense, just expanses of inert spots.

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