Hirst famously said he would never show at Tate Modern, only dead people show there. Is Hirst dead? I don't think he is dead, I saw him on the telly with Noel Fielding the other day, he was very much alive.
It is very hard to judge the show whilst trying to ignore all the ridicule and up roar that comes hand in hand with any of Damien Hirst shows. But this is my aim for this review, to block out the haters, the lovers and the “dont give a shitters” to view the work like I was totally oblivious to who Hirst was and all the press that surrounds him.
A show that is large in scale and time, 25 years in fact. This is his life's work all in one place, there is a bit for everyone in this show. The first room you enter is his very early works, including his piece that was at the Freeze art show which Damien organised whilst at Goldsmiths in the 1988. The work consists of coloured cardboard boxes stuck together to make some sort of cubist wall hanging, it does make me think how far he has come since his Goldsmiths days.
In the next room you are met with his piece “A Thousand Years” (his first live work) which consists of a severed head of a cow inside a large glass box covered in flies. The flies are born and live their remainder of their short lives inside this glass theater. The stench is quite off putting, but it is a familiar smell yet a smell you do not come across everyday, so curiosity makes you want to keep on smelling it even though your instinct tells you to move away (or maybe I'm just strange). Some flies die of natural causes but hanging over the cows bloody head is a insect-o-cutor, some flies live, some get cooked. Yet again Hirst's obsession with death is most evident in this piece.
Another live work was the butterfly room. The butterflies where beautiful but there was something unsettling about seeing them in a virtually white room with floods of people inspecting them.
But I did quite enjoy watching people flinch as a butterfly makes a dive bomber swoop to land on the unexpected and confused viewers.
One of the fondest moments of the show was an unintended bit of performance art by Damien Hirst. When one of these rare butterflies escaped its nightmare of a prison for a bid of freedom. The gallery assistants seemed unprepared for such a development. Unsure what action to take this man came along and chased it and eventually caught it and put it back in the butterfly room to live out the remainder of its life. (poor fucker)
The huge spot painting was impressive in the flesh, repetition features in my own work and so I can relate to such a piece even though the almost scientific precision of the spots is not to my taste. However, it most definitely grabs the viewer in a hypnotic trance as your brain tries to capture patterns in this huge and totally random coloured painting. I really don't care if he didn’t do any of the dots.
The cow cut in half was a pleasure to see, not that I have anything against cows. And I'm sure Hirst doesn’t either, what I do find interesting is that it still looks fresh and even alive. It is a rarity to see such a creature up close, even if its a creature that you see often and is very much part of our culture all be it on a carton of milk. It is a pleasure to see it with such clarity, and from a scientific view the insides of this industrious animal.
The piece that surprised me was the diamond skull. (Which is free to the public) I have never seen this piece in the flesh before and I have to say I was surprised that it actually resonated with me. Maybe because it was in-cased in a bunker-like black box in the turbine hall of the Tate, surrounded by security. Maybe it was the pitch darkness of the room that woke me up. There in the center of this dark room was the diamond skull in all its glory, sitting inside a glass case enlightened by spot lights. It was almost illuminant, as the light danced off the cut diamonds. I was in awe of it. I'm sure this was partly because I have probably never seen such an expensive object before (it cost £15 million to make) and I'm sure that is partly the idea of the piece. My imagination started to run away with me, I got a sense of history, like it was some sort of ancient discovery of a species that died off long ago. A species that was obsessed with wealth and power until it consumed itself through the self destructive nature of gluttony. But hang on, is this skull from the past or is it from the future?
(No photo of the skull, as the security would of shot me with a laser guided missile)
I then helped an old lady escape the blackness of the Hirst bunker as she struggled to find the exit but I think it was more the case of blind leading the blind. I left the room to see skull t shirts and key rings on sale, “roll up roll up get your skulls.” That skull is defiantly from the present.
The show will be on at Tate Modern till the 9th September.
Review by Richard Starbuck, artist - www.richardstarbuck.com