Damien Hirst Spot Paintings at Gagosian

Filed in Reviews by on January 12, 2012

“The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986-2011”
Damien Hirst
January 12th 2012
11 Gagosian galleries worldwide


Damien Hirst is like the Marmite of the art world. Love him or hate him, very few people are indifferent. My strong feelings towards Hirst waver between love, hate, envy, awe and cynicism. Whenever I see a Hirst exhibition or read a Hirst article I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s quote about cynics knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. It’s impossible to talk about Hirst without seeing pound signs, particularly when we talk about spots.

So what of this grand exhibition? What are the complete spot paintings? It is what it is and it does what it does, which is exactly what it says on the tin. ‘The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986 – 2011′ is an exhibition of over 300 paintings of spots spread throughout11 Gagosian galleries world wide, from London to New York, from Rome to Hong Kong.
And all it is is spots. Twenty five years worth of spots. My entire lifetime in spots.

Perfect. Wonderful. Infuriating. Genius. Typical bloody Hirst.

What a guy.

In London, there are 60 paintings at Britannia Street and 48 in Davies Street ranging from the massive to the tiny. Each consisting of flatly painted discs of household gloss on white or off-white backgrounds covering canvases large and small in seemingly endless grids. No colour is repeated on the same canvas and there is a gap between each disc equal to that of the diameter. There are square canvases and rectangular canvases. There are tondos and and there are rhomboids. Some spots are enormous, others are minuscule, the intention does not vary.

After a few minutes in the Britannia Street Gagosian I begin to feel a little sick. The spots have a way of dancing or pulsating gently before the eyes. The colours leap from the surface or sink into it, momentarily forming chains that linger, imprinted on your vision. It feels like the onset of a migraine. I retreat to the safety of the gift shop where I encounter specially designed “I spot DH” mugs (a steal at a mere £19.99 – hmmm.). A cute homage to “I heart NY” but also a clever truism. I spot DH in London, I spot him in New York, I spot him in Rome and in Hong Kong. He is taking over the world with art that could be made by anyone. Art that could be mistaken for wallpaper or a twister mat or a colour sample sheet or a shower curtain or a packet of birth control pills.

Hirst often gets compared to Andy Warhol due to his employing a factory of minions to make his work for him, though the similarities do not end there. It is said of Warhol that he gave the world exactly what it deserved; a can of soup on the wall. And perhaps the same can be said of Hirst. The spot paintings are spot paintings. They are the perfect corporate artworks, ideal for banks, board rooms, and modernist collectors, ideal for people with more money than knowledge or taste. A spot painting is a brand, a spot painting is a status symbol, a spot painting is an investment. It does not go anywhere further. It does not stretch its own boundaries. If you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all. But if the spot paintings are bad art, is “The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986 – 2011” a bad exhibition? Or does the fact that this exhibition of unflinchingly bland, basically authorless painting is simultaneously infiltrating galleries all over the world make it a conceptual masterpiece? I have to give this show a star rating and I am giving it three out of five. Which is high for an exhibition which I wouldn’t actually recommend anyone go out of their way to see. The fact is you don’t need to see this exhibition to appreciate it.

Typical bloody Hirst.

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Beth Fox

About the Author ()

Beth Fox is an artist, writer and independent curator. She has recently exhibited work at Divus Gallery, London, Sluice, London, Angus-Hughes Gallery, London, the Horse Hospital, London and the Bunkhouse Gallery, Madrid. She was born in Ireland and lives and works in London. More information at: www.beth-fox.com

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