Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Damien Hirst: No Love Lost, Blue Paintings

Posted in Reviews by ericashiozaki on November 16, 2009

Damien Hirst at Wallace Collection

No Love Lost, Blue Paintings

14th October, 2009 – 24th January, 2010

Rumors abound, of him and his lack of painterly skills abound.  His series of blue paintings are evidence to his self-acclaimed fear of the void space on canvas.  His creation lacks substance yet proclaims to be the symbol of the artists’ integral growth and a grand embarkation from his previous practices.  At most, the artist’s experimental approach to the two-dimensional plane seems to be present, however it only goes as far as emulating the convention of mark making, and his attempt to personify the soul of Abstract Expressionism is only subsumed by its own superficiality.  The artist is consumed by the end product, and not by the process of painting itself.  His compositions are shockingly poisoned by the aggressive central elements, mainly depiction of skulls and shark jaws, suspended in mid air, set against the deep blue background.  Half hazard white lines and dots spewed across the canvases appeal to be a pseudo mathematic/scientific diagram which, along with precariously rendered lemons and ash trays, detract and hinder the eyes from exploring the painting in depth.  The eyes have no-where to go, and his faintly layered green tropical leaves sadly become embarrassing eyesores.

hirst-floating skull

There is, however, one painting that glows dimly in the room, and it seems to directly and rightfully translate the artist’s genuine transition, growth and passion for painting.  The modestly scaled painting occupies a small wall towards the entrance of the gallery room.  Hirst began his journey into Floating Skull in 2006 and it is by far the most ‘worked and re-worked, filled and refilled’, genuine piece of painting.  Confusion, progressive struggle, persistence and feeble spirit seep through and transcend the black paint, glossy and thick like crude oil.

The work has also been considered curatorially.  The spotlight is angled scrupulously at the fading skull, illuminating the bluish-white pigment which seems to absorb all light energy, while the gleaming black backdrop counteracts by jarringly refracting it, resulting in an atmosphere drenched in some dramatic romance.  Throughout the rest of the show curatorial decisions seem rather vacant and it presses the question of how well Hirst’s paintings are integrated, or how much creative tension is developed between the site and the art.  What is at stake here is the existence of the contemporary paintings within a historical collection, housed in a listed building.  Like an unfriendly flat mate, No Love Lost lives exclusively, and the temporary exhibition is divorced from its counterpart. The single bridge between the two worlds is necessarily erected through the pamphlet entitled Damien Hirst’s Wallace Collection Trail.  But the quest for seeking their relationship miserably fails, as it appears the leaflet is an assortment of Hirst’s ‘TOP 26 inspirational works’ drawn from the collection.  The caption on the front: “…have ignited Damien Hirst’s imagination. Text © Damien Hirst”, eludes to an ultimately fictional development, that the specific works within the Collection have a direct correlation to the making of his blue paintings.

All cynicism aside, I do believe Hirsts removal from the glamorous, shining and ‘Sensation’ revealed something of the artist and his production that has never been revealed before.  As much as I perceive Hirst’s incompetence as a painter (not necessarily an artist) I also believe in his honesty that seemed to bleakly shine through the exhibition, and his genuine interest or deep reverence towards these painters cannot be dismissed.  I say this with a certain amount of conviction, whether derived out of dogma or inclination, for this is what I felt Floating Skull spoke of, but not what the exhibition translates.

Am I pleasantly dissatisfied and challenged, or am I enduring an amusing yet critically unchallenged state?  Having visited the exhibition over a week ago, I still remain transfixed and haunted by it, as I attempt so often configure the show, asking what the right questions would be, if in fact there are any.

*Talks and discussions held at Wallace Collection, prominent speakers include: Michael Craig Martin, Richard Cork, Iwona Blazwick, etc. More info at

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