The new Damien Hirst exhibition at Tate Modern is essentially all about dots, death, decay and diamonds. Thinking back through the collection every piece seems to fit into one of these dramatic categories.
Forever making a statement, Hirst’s work aims to shock and surprise and though I can sometimes be cynical of this (generally) overrated artist, I was impressed with the display and variety in the Tate’s exhibition.
The show is the first major survey of Hirst’s work to be held in London and features the most famous and controversial works from throughout his career. Born in 1965 in Bristol, he grew up in Leeds and while studying art at Goldsmiths, achieved recognition from the exhibition Freeze, which he curated in 1988. He became known for his daring and provocative works such as the shark suspended in formaldehyde, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ 1991.
Perhaps the most disturbing pieces in this show are the poor animals chain-sawed in half to create symmetrical parts. Set in tanks of formaldehyde the organs are still and serene, now merely an object replacing life. In one of the first rooms a recently detached cow’s head is skinned, raw and bloody on the floor, flies swarm around, it is foul and yet captivating. It is called ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990) and supposedly captures a whole life cycle.
The organised pill cabinets are perhaps the most aesthetically satisfying and pleasing pieces in the show. Colour coordinated tablets sit on thin silver shelves as part of a huge work. ‘Lullaby, the Seasons’ (2002) is really quite beautiful, layers and layers of multicoloured pills, medicine as art soothing the eye just as it remedies our ailments.
There is some excitement to be had in the installation ‘In and Out of Love’ 1991. Guests are invited into a specially maintained humid enviroment where white canvases embedded with pupae hatch and live butterflies flutter freely amongst the visitors. Again Hirst touches on themes of life and death, beauty and cruelty. In the adjacent room colourful pictures are made by dunking dead butterfly wings in paint.
The final rooms show Hirst’s more recent preoccupation with money, wealth and specifically diamonds. Pieces holding thousands of pounds worth of meticulously arranged glittering diamonds sparkle unlike anything you have ever seen before. It is like entering a chest of jewels, and doesn’t feel real. These opulent works revisit old ideas but now in an entirely new form.
Whatever your preconception is, the Damien Hirst is definitely worth seeing, even if just to fuel your curiosity.
Exhibition continues at the Tate Modern until 9 September, book here.