Saturday, May 5, 2012

Thumbs down (bar one) for Damien Hirst at Tate Modern

What the London critics say about the shark-in-formaldehyde artist's retrospective
Damien Hirst in front of his work "I am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds" in Tate Modern, London (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

A much publicised show of Britain’s ageing enfant terrible Damien Hirst opened at Tate Modern on 4 April and the reviews have been less than friendly. The artist has responded in an interview with the The Daily Telegraph (which, coincidentally, carried the most favourable review, see below), saying: “People don’t like contemporary art but all art starts life as contemporary—I can’t really see a difference. Michelangelo was definitely getting that, everybody was getting it. I’m sure there were people in caves going, ‘I like your cave but I hate that crap you’ve got on the wall’.

The critic to get the most media attention has been Julian Spalding, who published a book just days before the show’s opening titled Con Art–Why you ought to sell your Damien Hirsts while you can. Writing in the Independent, Spalding says: “Some people argue that Damien Hirst is a great artist. Some say he is an execrable artist, and others put him somewhere more boring in between. They are all missing the point. Damien Hirst isn’t an artist. His works may draw huge crowds when they go on show in a five-month-long blockbuster retrospective at Tate Modern next week. But they have no artistic content and are worthless as works of art. They are, therefore, worthless financially.”

The morning of the press view, Spalding was denied entry to Tate Modern during an interview with the BBC. He complained: “The Tate’s job is to encourage debate about art… The fact that I’m not allowed to talk about the work in front of [it] is extraordinary. This gallery does not belong to the Tate [management]. It belongs to the people of Britain.”

“Blasting his way through the polite façade of British culture, he took conceptualism from the margins to the mainstream, transforming London from an artistic backwater in a beacon of the avant garde. For this alone he earned himself a place among our greats. But is he any good?… The Tate may try to drag him back into its aesthetic domain, but this show—however atmospheric—comes too late. Hirst reached his apogee with his hubristic 2008 Sotheby’s sale.” Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

“For reasons that I don’t understand, he insists on presenting himself as a fraud who is somehow pulling the wool over the eyes of the public. And that’s a pity, because in Tate Modern’s full-scale retrospective he comes across as a serious—if wildly uneven—artist.” Dorment ends his review saying: “In many ways this is a difficult show, but I left it with a sense of Hirst as an artist whose moral stature can no longer be questioned.” Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph

“Tate curator Ann Gallagher has done her best to strip away the excess and repetition of Hirst’s art, but it won’t go away. It’s what he does. My problem with Hirst is not the money (Picasso made lots, and nobody cares), nor the vulgarity he has opted for, but his capitulation as an artist. He could have been so much better. It is an enormous disappointment.” Adrian Searle, The Guardian

“He is either the presiding genius of contemporary British art, justifiably making a fortune by thrilling audiences with his memorable reflections on life and death. Or he is an empty con artist, making a fool of us and raking in millions from buyers with more money than sense.” Mark Brown, The Guardian

“The exhibition comes as the price of his work has fallen and critics have questioned the value of his famous dead animals suspended in formaldehyde and his spot paintings. Since the heady days of 2008, the price of Mr Hirst’s work has fallen even further than the wider contemporary art market, according to data from Art Market Research, a London organisation… In 2008, the peak price for the most expensive 25% of his work was nine times what it was in 2000, but it is now being bought for less than three and a half times the 2000 price.” Hannah Kuchler, The Financial Times

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