Once a Catholic...: Marina Warner on Damien Hirst
July 5, 2012 12:05 PM   Subscribe

This is pretty good, but for my money this:
There are too many equations in Hirst’s art, too many comprehensible metaphors with no outer rings of mystery and resonance; he doesn’t voyage into those spaces of thought between the outer code and the referent
is more applicable to, say, Jeff Koons than to Hirst. It is exactly the mockery of death that Warner pinpoints that is the most interesting bit about Hirst's work, because it is so naked and calculated that it can't be read as anything but fear. The many, many pieces that incorporate dead animals function as a sort of desperate incantation of Duchamp's transfiguration (wherein declaring something art makes it so): will this dead hunk of meat, frozen in lucite, photographed and shipped around the world, maintain significance? Or, perversely, gain significance?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:48 PM on July 5, 2012

The butterflies weren't that impressive when I saw it: maybe a couple of dozen live ones in a large room. The preserved animals are looking a bit grey and wrinkled too. It's interesting to walk through the divided cow and see all the anatomical structures though.

Some of it's very eye-catching though, like the spin paintings. The decaying cows head with flies is pretty horrific. I think the good thing about Hirst is that he's not just all about dry ideas like some conceptual artists, he's good at creating striking visual and sensory effects.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:50 PM on July 5, 2012

The preserved animals are looking a bit grey and wrinkled too.

They've got Hirst's work "The Impossibility of Death...." (aka "the big shark in the tank") up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and so help me, every time I see it all I can think is that it looks more like a really half-assed natural history display.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:54 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

His medicine cabinets are my second favorites, after Rembrandt's.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:09 PM on July 5, 2012

Many years ago I read about Hirst's works of art and I will have to say when I initially saw them I was very disappointed (probably what I read was used to build it into an entirely different piece in my mind).

I was coming from the perspective of someone who either spent a lot of time examining innards of animals or even human cadavers for either science purposes or teaching purposes - so to me, a shark or even human cadaver is absolutely beautiful- but that is after you examine the muscles, layer by layer, seeing how they fit together, the striations...or even looking at organs and at the insides of organs (sharks stomachs/intestines have a structure on the inside like this, which is just beautiful). This is after weeks or months of examining something and then you start to see the beauty.

So to me, a plain old shark in a tank or plain old large anatomic models were flat and took away the beauty of science and nature. I do think that anatomic models are usually helpful, but this is when you can use them as intended...take them apart and put them together again,not look at a structure with a rope around it.

I do think that this article by Werner was helpful (I really needed/wanted to know what other people saw in his work)- the way she describes his work, it sounds absolutely beautiful. Also, she describes some of his other art pieces so I can for a moment at least glimpse what Hirst is trying to convey. For example, I think the example of transience in art is beautiful. I've seen other artists do this by having beautiful structures made out of wax and then burning them, and you see it change and realize an hour later it will be a different piece. So using that concept then Hirst's exhibit with the butterflies is interesting, both live and on the pictures (see at 1:05 through 1:59) (the idea of showing transience in art, but using living creatures that live a short time and become part of the art).

Even though I just read the article and watched that youtube video of his retrospective exhibit, there is something about his work that is just sterile to me. I don't know if he wants to have that effect or maybe it is my lack of understanding of what is supposed to be underneath.
posted by Wolfster at 1:54 PM on July 5, 2012

Reading this article has made me appreciate Hirst a bit more as an artist and understand some of the thought processes behind his work.

In the end, though, I just can't get past the tackiness of that diamond-encrusted skull. It's tacky on an aesthetic level and a conceptual one, and there's something about it that just irritates me.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:01 PM on July 5, 2012

Wonderful writing.. thanks for posting this. I like her poetic style and historic/cultural references. Catholicism is certainly a driver for Hirst. The part Werner did not touch on is Hirst's connection to pop, Warhol in particular, who was a practicing and devout Catholic. She touches on it, indirectly. Her doubts about where Hirst is today is a gamble, imo. Personally, I think he is spot on, and will continue to produce great art for many years to come. But then again, I have always been a big fan, and admirer. For me he is a genius.

In a busy world, that is a big demand, but one of the many reasons why art matters is its ability to stop the rush.

yup. and to tie in one of her themes, why rush toward death? Art has the great capacity to slow us down to stop and smell the flowers, or the imagined stench of formaldehyde.
posted by snaparapans at 2:19 PM on July 5, 2012

Even if it doesn't make you appreciate Hirst, it should totally make you appreciate Warner - who in my opinion is a fabulous write and just such an incisive, lucid mind. I could read her stuff all day.
posted by smoke at 7:40 PM on July 5, 2012

There’s a tempting museum shop at the exit of the show at Tate Modern (currently selling numbered Hirst prints for more than £30,000 each)
Is it just me or does this sort of defeat the purpose of prints? Even in a small limited edition the idea is usually to have a version of a work of art that can be bought by an ordinary prole rather than an obscenely overpaid CEO.
posted by egypturnash at 11:17 PM on July 5, 2012

All I could think about was those poor butterflies.

And that Hirst is a douche and a decidedly minor artist whose biggest gift is self promotion, but that goes without saying.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:05 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it just me or does this sort of defeat the purpose of prints? It is just you.

Prints in the art world, numbered and signed by a well known artist can be pricy. Posters, announcement cards (PR material) and books, which you may be thinking of, are anywhere from free to very inexpensive. If you were to see Hirst and had a poster, invitation card or book of his, you could probably even get him to sign it for you.

He once signed book for me, at an opening, and drew a little picture (skull).. the book cost $20 or $30. He is, pretty generous as person from what I hear. Buys a lot of art from young and unknown artists, iow supports a lot of people.
posted by snaparapans at 7:34 AM on July 6, 2012

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