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.

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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 http://www.wallacecollection.org/collections/exhibition/77

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John Wesley: Retrospective 2009

Posted in Reviews by ericashiozaki on October 19, 2009

John Wesley Retrospective Exhibition at the Fondazione Prada, Venice Biennale 2009

Curated by Germano Celant

06.06.09 – 04.10.09

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Photo credit: Fondazione Prada

Art historically speaking, John Wesley’s work sits on a rather precarious position, belonging to no place but every place at the same time.  In the past, it had been remarked as pop art; later associated with minimalism through Donald Judd, with visible traces of surrealism and dada, along side the detachment of Renee Magritte, while Amazon.com labels him as an illustrator.  His visual language is broad, enticing, tactful and complex, with obscure and humorous subject matters that seemed to be at once wild, yet restrained, with a faint touch of misery and elegance.

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Photo Credit: Fondazione Prada

The retrospective exhibition at Fondazione Prada (Venice Biennale), highlights Wesley’s obsessive use of colours, his repetitive application of similar or same shapes, figures and characters, that are boldly painted on medium sized canvases, dispersed across the grand venue.  His carefully constructed compositions and contents are often accompanied by a very simple subject matter, added with a few figures or elements, as if each painting is a single segment/moment of a life-long saga.  When hung together, these segments adjoin and correspond to one another, and walking through the room is an experience close to that of flicking through a mass of un-collated and unorganized family photos.  They may not carry a cohesive story line or a linear narrative, but the recognizable colours and fictional characters carry a sense of story telling, and an undisturbed musical rhythm which one becomes in synch with. His paintings are aligned with movement and rhythm, and ones’ eyes dynamically follow the two-dimensional planes, hung at alternating heights and positions. Furthermore, the lack of depth on Wesley’s flat surfaces vanish any possibilities of his paintings becoming virtual ‘windows’ to another world, but remain merely as meticulously positioned images, that have the flexibility to be placed on top of each other, without being reduced to a salon style hanging. Although the paintings respond and react against each other, they still retain the ability to stand independently, without being engulfed by adjacent paintings.  His strong outlines and white frames contain the composition within, creating a threshold of us and them, real and surreal; producing the agility to mix, yet not melt or drown into their own surroundings. A point of reference can be taken from the paintings hung in corridors that adjoin the exhibition rooms.

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Photo Credit: Fondazione Prada

To address its historical linearity of the retrospective, black corridors are used as a curatorial partition, as well as a transition stage, dividing each room within the concatenation.  The narrow hallways are decorated with bright texts on top of charcoal black walls, where Wesley’s canvases are exposed.  Here, the curator of the exhibition Germano Celant had cleverly distinguished demarcation points from the rest of the exhibition for a smooth and expected transitioning, rather than achieving an elusive and empty space, which carelessly and breathlessly unites all rooms.

In his catalogue essay, Celant confirms the negation of Abstract Expressionism in Wesley’s work, and this exhibition beckons to ask what the term indicates, in relation to Wesley’s oeuvre. In my eyes Wesley’s paintings are not completely foreign to Abstract Expressionism, and qualities like indifference, impersonal or inhuman, seem to be antithetical to Wesley’s language.  In fact, I find his works incredibly ‘human’ and close, not distant.  By observing the contours of his subject very intimately, the residue of humanness, limitation of human activity, becomes apparent. This residue and ‘limitation’ I speak of is overtly abundant in his quivering black outlines, painted-over background, and his persistent study of the same colour for years and years.  These elements compel one to think and to rethink of Greenbergian ‘objectness’ and ‘abandonment of illusion’ through Abstract Expressionism, or even further, Michel Freid’s ‘Art and Objecthood, 1967.

*More images and information can be found on Fondazione Prada Website: http://www.fondazioneprada.org