Damien Hirst at Tate Modern by Jenny Judova – Until 9 September 2012
‘I went in determined to hate it but fell in love somewhere along the way’ this is how one of my friends described the experience of the Damien Hirst retrospective in Tate Modern. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate Damien Hirst his show in Tate Modern is hard not to like. He is still seen as a controversial figure and is best remembered as an Enfant Terrible for his drunken debauchery and pickled animals. Hirst has settled down, hasn’t drunk for half a decade and has 3 sons. The twenty something Enfant Terrible is gone instead the almost 50 year old Young British Artist is holding his first retrospective at the Tate, which is ironic in itself as the younger Hirst thought that retrospectives at the Tate are only ‘for dead artists’.
The works are presented in a loose chronological order with the main theme of the exhibition being the same as of his work – death. The show is a great momento mori where everything reminds and acclaims the ‘physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living.’ I must admit that there were a couple unexpected surprises in the show.
Two works ‘A Thousand Years’ and ‘In and Out of Love’ I thought I would never see in real life as they were one off installations presented in the early 90′s. The former shows the circle of life of a fly creating the feeding and breeding environment for them. The work is gruesome in its realism and faint smell; it is also unsettling as in essence it presents a micro version of the same cycle each of us is going through. ‘In and Out of Love’ a more eye friendly take on the same idea where instead of flies it uses butterflies.
The pharmacy room I found ingenious as it referenced the previous two installations in a very delicate manner. The room was stacked with pharmaceutical cabinets – the drugs that keep us alive and going, above it was the same light used in the flies’ box. The room was the human version of ‘A Thousand Years‘ and ‘In and Out of Love’ with the visitors themselves being part of the exhibit acting the role of the flies/butterflies.
The famous shark despite its title ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ made me question not my future death but the authenticity of art. Julian Stallabrass was right to point out that it brings up Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ rather than anything else, thus it is hard not to wander how much is art dependent and derived from popular culture. I also thought the title says 1991, yet the shark was replaced in 2005-2006 (it began to deteriorate as it wasn’t properly preserved), the only part of the work that dates 1991 is the glass vitrine that holds it. I knew this before the show yet it was only when I was there face to face with the monster that I realized that if I saw it in 2001 it would have been a creature different to the one I was staring at now. Yet nothing in the show acknowledges the replacement. The nasty question all this raises is how do you date the work?
The last part of the show was dedicated to ‘Beautiful Inside my Mind’ – the 2008 Sotheby’s two day auction of Hirst’s work which became known for the diamond skull (exhibited at the Turbine Hall). As the Skull took the attention many works were under looked, which was probably a good thing as most of them or at least the ones shown at Tate are luxury versions of his earlier works, for example instead of rows of pills now we find rows of Swarovski crystals. Each work seems to argue with the phrase ‘Death is the ultimate equalizer’. Here death and mortality are luxuries, as if death is a different experience for the very rich. The room begs the question did this luxurisation of momento mori occur because Hirst is now a very rich man or because now his target audience (and buyers) consist of super rich?
The show is mesmerizing and is thought provoking despite being very entertaining.
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