damien hirst at tate modern

2 September 2012 § 1 Comment

It seems hard to believe that it is over four months since I was at the Press Preview of Damien Hirst at the Tate. How time (butter)flies. I have been meaning to write up a review ever since then but the thought of doing it is so depressing I have almost daily delayed the act. So here we go. I’ll try and make it and short and painless as possible. And as close to the end of the run so you won’t even be tempted to see how bad it really is.

The first thing that you actually notice is that the Tate have cunningly nicked one of the permanent exhibition areas to create three paid-for shows and so reducing the tally of free-to-view from four to three.  Clearly the sneaky idea is to maximise revenue for the Olympics.

And so to the exhibition. I  firstly should say that Damien Hirst has an important place in the art work. Almost single-handedly he created the yBa phenomenon and gave British art a kick up the arts that it most definitely needed with his Freeze graduate show. He deserves congratulations. He deserves to be remembered and have a nice big entry in Wikipedia. But he doesn’t deserve this show and neither do we.

The first room at the Tate shows this student work. Interestingly, of the artists at Freeze Hirst was one of the last picked up by a major gallery and its easy to see why with these rough half-formed ideas. He actually called them “embarassing” himself – so why are they here? 

The Tate’s excuse is that it is not a highlights show but a mid-career review. So where are the execrable paintings that the the Wallace collection misguidedly showed a couple of years back?

Following his post-student lull we all know how quickly he made up for lost time in the get rich quick world of the 90’s and noughties. He was at the heart of the rise of art as commodity and artist as a brand. An artist who set out, unapologetically, to make shock-art that also made money. Accompanied by the rise of the super-galleries this is an era that much of the art world is trying hard to forget – a time where cash and vulgarity ruled.

Hirst explains: “I always thought it would be great if art galleries were more like the Natural History Museum (London), where you go in and there’s this big wow factor, rather than having to ask yourself, ‘What am I supposed to be thinking?’

So here you get room after room of “wow factor” art that hits you in the eyes. I won’t bother to describe it all – I’m sure you know them all by now: spots, vitrines, spin paintings, butterflies, anatomical dummies, medicine cabinets. Each is repeated ad nauseum – usually bigger or bolder or with more diamonds stuck on.

The net effect is tedious and repetitious. You come out feeling like you have been slapped around the face or punched in the stomach. Dizzy and slightly nauseous. Note to Tate – must try harder.

That is all you are getting. Just don’t go. Please.

Damien Hirst is at Tate Modern until – no I can’t do it – I’m not telling you!
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