Heads up: Damien Hirst

Still a Sensation? A chance to reassess Hirst's 'greatest hits'

What are we talking about? The first major survey of the work of not-so-Young British Artist Damien Hirst, as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

 

Elevator pitch For the Love of Modern Art... it's Damien on display.

 

Prime movers Hirst, obviously. The curator is the head of British art at Tate Modern, Ann Gallagher.

 

The stars Pickled sharks and diamond-encrusted skulls... sorry, we mean The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and For the Love of God. Yes, many of his most famous, and most controversial, works will be among the 70-piece exhibition. Other "greatest hits" pieces on display include the bisected cow and sheep, Mother and Child Divided, and Pharmacy.

 

The early buzz Not everyone is pleased that he's becoming our Olympics poster-boy: Harry Mount for The Telegraph blogged: "free of skill, depending on the power of ideas over creation, of shock over beauty, of simplicity over sophistication... Hirst's work celebrates all that is trashy and meretricious in modern British culture." Art critic Brian Sewell weighed in: "Over the last 20 years [Hirst] has simply played the fool or exploited the folly of museum directors and there's been no real invention... It is the problem with Damien: the idea is immediately understood by anyone who is looking at the works." But Simon Wilson, in the RA's magazine, defended him: "We should celebrate whatever chance combination of genes and environment, of nature and nurture, gave us this compelling, oddball artist."

 

Insider knowledge You might associate his work with death and decay, but the installation In and Out of Love may change your mind: you can walk through a room in which butterflies are hatching and flying around. Sounds almost sweet...

 

It's great that ... one of the most grossly excessive pieces of art ever made in this country – that £50m skull – will at least be free for us plebs to peer at for the first 12 weeks, when it becomes the latest Turbine Hall installation (with maximum security, presumably).

 

It's a shame that ... given Hirst is often seen as merely a money-grubbing self-promoting business man, the patronage/free advertising of one of our great national galleries has been considered a bit, well, rich.

 

Hit potential Sure to provoke more harumphing in the press; also sure to pull a crowd.

 

The details Damien Hirst is at Tate Modern, London SW1 (tate.org.uk), 4 April to 9 September.

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