The problem with assessing much modern art is that it's hard to tell the difference between a banal work and one whose theme is banality. So, how might we make a case against Damien Hirst?by Ben Lewis / July 28, 2007 / Leave a comment
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Beyond Belief, by Damien Hirst (White Cube, Hoxton Square & Mason’s Yard, until 7th July)
Damien Hirst’s new skull is studded with thousands of flawless diamonds—but does that make it a flawless work of art? Yes, according to most art critics. Reviews have been euphoric for Hirst’s new exhibition at London’s White Cube gallery—a big change from the mixed reaction to his blood-splattered cabinets of 2003, or his photorealist paintings of 2005. But now Damien has “redeemed himself,” as one critic put it, and created what “might be the art of the 21st century.” The new show is called “Beyond Belief,” a title that refers to Hirst’s current religious preoccupations, but which a cynic might interpret as a reference to the popularity of his often derivative and repetitive oeuvre. I am not a cynic, but, unlike many of my peers, I do think the question of how great Hirst is remains unresolved.
The skull, wittily titled For the Love of God, is certainly dazzling, and very much of its time. With its widely reported but unverifiable £50m price tag, it is a work that an artist could only afford to make at a time when the art market is booming. It embodies the fact that art works have become the crown jewels of our age, yet it also reaches far back in history—its prototype is an Aztec skull decorated with precious stones. It glorifies death, and it ironises the Christian message that your wealth is not taken with you to the grave. Yet its aesthetic value remains uncertain. Has Hirst found a new way of capturing the imagination of a mass audience? Or is For the Love of God a gimmick: grotesquely extravagant in its execution and inane in its meaning?
This question hovers over all Hirst’s work. Enthusiasts talk of its immediacy and simplicity. Take his dot paintings, a series of paintings of randomly chosen colours arranged mathematically in a grid of spots, each spot the size of the circumference of a paint tin. These, one might say, paint the full stop in the history of 20th-century abstraction. After the mysterious spirituality of Kandinsky’s symphonies of colour and Barnett Newman’s colour field paintings, after Pollock or Rothko’s representation of psychological turmoil through colour, Hirst makes the point that any geometric arrangement of colours can have a pleasing aesthetic impact.…