Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern, London

Rapture, via
disclaimer - i'm about to go all art history student on you (again). 

While researching our trip to London this past September I literally squealed out loud (like some crazy art groupie - guilty as charged) when I discovered the Damien Hirst retrospective at the Tate Modern would still be open. Mike and I were part of the last group to see it on the last day of the show. And it. was. awesome.

What can I say about Hirst that you don't already know? He's an ass hole. He's stinking rich. He's brilliant. He's Andy Warhol reincarnate (I realize this is impossible due to his age, but whatever). And any mention of his name in an art class or gallery or auction house stirs up a lot of controversy.

For the Love of God, via

Because he's the guy who stuffs a dead shark and sells it for $12 million.

He cuts a lamb in half and sticks it in formaldehyde and laughs all the way to the bank. He pays assistants to mathematically paint dots on canvasesglue diamonds to skulls, place pills in medicine cabinets, and chuck cigarette butts in an oversized ashtray. He challenges what we think is art, how it's sold, and what we're willing to pay for it.

And I kind of love him for it.

Isolation - thousands of lab-made emeralds on little shelves. The structure measures 6' x 9'! via

He's a one man marketing machine, a brilliant business person, and he has balls. He was one of the first artists to sell directly from his studio to the auction house, skipping the normal routes of galleries and agents and dealers, turning the art world pyramid on its head.

I get it, I went to art school where any talk of sales and money made most people squeamish. But let's call a spade a spade - art has always been about money. Because even the act of creating art for art's sake is still about money. And here's what Hirst has to say about it:

“I find that aspect of the work part of its life. If the art’s about life and then people pay money for it and it becomes a commodity and manages to still stay art, I find that really exciting.” (via)

So do I.

I'm also a sucker for his work titles, which are never arbitrary. My favourite titles include The psychical impossibility of death in the mind of someone livingThe more you know, the more you knowand Beautiful inside my head foreverPretty words for ugly things? Well, maybe.

Ceftriaxone via
But all that is just to say it was obviously a thrill to see a retrospective of Hirst's works in person. Yes, this installation gave off the worst odour ever. And this one had me shaking in my boots (I'm afraid of butterflies.) But still, it was kind of an experience of a lifetime. And my favourite part of the whole show? The gift shop.

Yes, the gift shop. Because for me Hirst's work is really all about transactions, and his brilliance lies in his manipulation of the art and business world. And that gift shop, buzzing with so many groupies like me - snatching up posters and tshirts and calendars in some kind of worshipful frenzy - was a like a little performance art space in itself. An opportunity to participate in Hirst's shiny gold world.

As I walked out with my own souvenirs, I couldn't help but think that the gift shop was just as important to the show as any single piece displayed there. And it. was. awesome.

one of my Hirst retrospective souvenirs
But my partner, Mike (the accountant) doesn't think so. He hates Hirst. Like most people, Mike doesn't get why cutting a cow in half and calling it art can earn a guy a living. It just makes him mad. And that's OK.

I get it. While I'm of the opinion you should hate the game, not the player, Hirst is an easy target to attack. And while I believe his art has substance beyond its shock value, it's a question that should always be up for debate.

So, what do you think? Love him or loathe him?

- Jess

p.s. my favourite book about the business side of the art world.

p.p.s.  the background on hirst's web site is a live studio feed. kinda cool, right?

my other souvenir - a spot painting print. via instagram @jessinmalta


  1. I LOVE this post Jess!

    I am always fascinated by stuff like this but I'll be the first to admit, I'm certainly not an Art major. I am, however, a humanities major which means I love reading between the lines whether it be in art, film literature, architecture, etc. I'm with you - I think it's kind of brilliant and the fact that he makes people angry makes me like it even more. I'm usually a fan of people that will push boundaries even when it might not be popular. Joe is like Mike which can be a bit of a downer when discussing the meaning behind things.

    By the way, on a semi unrelated note, our Context walk in Berlin was led by an art critic. Even though our topic really wasn't about art, he often would give us little insights on the things we saw and I loved it. It made me think of you and it totally moved 'art historian' up in my list of cool majors.

    1. Hah, I hardly think art historians are that cool! But thanks for your kind comment.

      And I love that you read between the lines :) It can be a downer, but to Mike's credit after 8 years of listening to my blabbering on about such things, he's really picking it up and getting used to me engaging him in debates. Slowly but surely :)

      I'm so curious about Context tours, and definitely booking one the next time I find myself in a Context city. I'm loving your Context blog posts!

  2. I am never sure what to think about artists such as Damien Hirst, its more a love/hate relationship, but I loved your post on the exhibition! Learned many new things about Hirst and his work! Thanks Jess!!

    1. Glad you learned new things, and thanks for commenting! I think for most people it's a love/hate thing :)


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