I went to see the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern yesterday with Alexa. We had a great day and crammed in 3 exhibitions at the Tate (more of those to come).
I’m really not sure how I feel about Damien Hirst. I didn’t think much of him before I went and that opinion hasn’t changed so much. I was hoping that I would have a revelatory response like I did with Tracey Emin – where there would be other pieces behind the hype that would give me a better insight into the artist – I came away from Emin’s ‘Love is What You Want’ absolutely loving her. That didn’t happen with Hirst. He still leaves an odd taste in my mouth and makes me feel like he’s having a joke that I’m not in on. I do feel exploited in some way.
I suppose he challenges what we think of as Fine Art – and generally that is the problem I have with him. Someone in the Guardian was discussing the makers and those who get things made. I’m not that fussed about that – but I AM fussed about showing a (to all intents and purposes) scientific exhibit as Fine Art.
Many of his exhibits I feel are literally displays of objects. I realise there are greys in this area – such as ordering, collating and coming up with the idea, but I can’t really get my head around how a cabinet of medicine boxes and packaging named after a Sex Pistols track can be desribed as art.
Hirst stated that A Thousand Years – was about losing control for the first time – but I disagree. I think this piece is ALL about control. While the flies may be in control of what they do, they are in a CONTROLLED environment. Hirst has controlled it that way. He has created the vitrine; put the flies and cow head in the box and put the zapper in there. We all become voyeurs of a sadistic reality show. I found that piece repulsive. Obviously the intent.
I was also very ‘off’ about the idea of seeing the formaldehyde animals. They weren’t so bad as I was expecting. I find them ‘offensive’ from the perspective of needing to know how he obtained the animals – if they were killed to order (extremely offensive to me in the name of art) or if they were being killed anyway and Hirst put their corpses to ‘good use’. But they all still look like science exhibits that should be in the Natural History Museum. As do the tool exhibits and the medicine cabinets.
The pills I get. I like, even. I like the order, the sorting of colours and the reflective displays. The intrigue, detail. Like it even more knowing they are facsimiles. Not sure how he got them (still) though!
The butterflies trouble me though. I’ve been there. I had a childhood obsession with them. I used to catch them and my mum and dad converted my wendy-house into an aviary my friend and I could put the butterflies in there with loads of Buddleia, nectar etc. and sit in there and watch them. I even had pinned butterfly specimens (before I knew and understood better). So I loved being in the hatching room (although how they can say pupae ‘stuck’ onto a canvas is ’embedded’ in it is beyond me…). But again, not sure how this can be art.
Even worse were the fag butts in ashtrays. It was hard to tell whether some gum in one of them was sneakily put there by a passer-by or by the artist. How can you just place an ashtray in a place over and over again? If the butts aren’t stuck down how can there be any artistic intent? Surely the arrangement must change each time they move? You’d find the same thing in any pub on a Friday night (pre ban) or outside an office entrance on any given workday. Is that the point? That there is art in the mundane? Unspeakable words like me creating a big pile of sh*t and displaying that – would that be regarded as art? Spring to mind. I often wonder what my MA tutors would make of it if I presented one of these as my own work to them…
However, I loved the butterfly pictures. Particularly the cathedral windows made from the butterfly wings. This is where the bad taste in my mouth comes in. They are so utterly beautiful, but I know the butterflies have been killed in order to create these images. Even if they were already on the market: supply and demand and all that means they were effectively killed to order. It is HIGHLY unlikely they met a natural death and were collected that way… But the correlation between the intensity of light coming through a stained glass window and the luminosity of the butterfly wings is stunning. From afar they look like giant photos of stained glass. Mosque tiles and cathedral windows – intricate patterns of colour. I wish I didn’t love them so much. Again – clearly his intent. But I can appreciate the involvement of the artist in these and the giant fly (plain chocolate crispy) picture – whether he laid his hands on them or not. It shouldn’t make a different that these insects have a much shorter life span – but maybe it does to me (and that makes me cross at myself).
And then onto the diamond skull… He’s just so savvy this bloke. He retains a part share in he ownership of this piece. Worth £50m the guy’s not nuts after all… Well, it’s much smaller than I expected and I didn’t expect there to be a huge stone decoration (like the crown jewels) on the forehead. The teeth make it very real and disconcerting. Can you tell if there is really any bone under all that platinum? It’s pretty and a bit like all those Mayan crystal skulls – with a mysticism around it (probably from all the sparkles – it’s in a completely dark room lit with spotlights until it is deemed you should leave and then they turn the lights out and you have a struggle to find the exit). This I understand as art. It has historical and social references abound and would still have the same impact whether it was made from real bone or just platinum.
Meh. I’ve spent more time on him than I think he’s worth already…