Critics pan Damien Hirst's New York show

Click to follow
The Independent US

For years it seemed the reputation of Damien Hirst, known as the bad boy of British art, would remain as safely preserved as the body of the tiger shark he famously suspended in formaldehyde. But an outing of new works in Manhattan has suddenly suggested otherwise. The critics are calling his bluff.

For years it seemed the reputation of Damien Hirst, known as the bad boy of British art, would remain as safely preserved as the body of the tiger shark he famously suspended in formaldehyde. But an outing of new works in Manhattan has suddenly suggested otherwise. The critics are calling his bluff.

"The Emperor's New Paintings" was the stinging headline of a review in the Village Voice after the recent opening of his first exhibition in Manhattan since 2000. The New York Times asked on its front page whether anyone else had recognised Hirst was not actually any good.

For another artist, the panning of the show, titled "The Elusive Truth", with 29 photorealist oil paintings mostly executed by assistants rather than by Hirst, might spell instant disaster. Not maybe for Hirst, who has reportedly seen all of the works already sold, some for $2m (£1m).

It is perhaps the hold that Mr Hirst, now 39 and with two children, apparently has on collectors who may care more about the name of the artist than the art that has so infuriated the New York critics.

Their disgust at what they have seen at the Gagosian Gallery has raised hopes in some that his time is waning. "Hirst's show merely brings us a step closer to the end of this profligate period," said Jerry Salz of the Village Voice. "The paintings themselves are transparent; in effect they are only labels, carriers of the Hirst brand. They're like Prada or Gucci. You pay more but get the buzz of a brand."

They may see some significance in the fate of the famous Hirst shark, called "Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living". Charles Saatchi, the collector who has done so much to nurture Hirst's celebrity, sold it to a Connecticut hedge-fund manager, Steven Cohen, for a reported $8m. But there is more: the fish is said to have started disintegrating.

The pieces at the Gagosian show skulls, pills, a doctor holding a brain, an empty hospital hallway and a monkey pierced in the face by a hypodermic needle. The artist freely admits he did only final touches. But that is not what seems to bother the critics. They just do not think the pieces have much to recommend them. Nor are they impressed by his attempt to reinvent photorealism, spawned by the Pop movement of Andy Warhol.

"Warhol is his role model but also increasingly his rebuke," Michael Kimmerman said in The New York Times. "Warhol got there first and did it all better, years ago, including the deadpan corporate routine and the death-obsessed imagery, which in Hirst's new paintings seems second-hand and off the mark."

Hirst told one interviewer on opening night: "Everything you make is not a masterpiece. You do turn round after a few years and look at your stuff and you think it's embarrassing."

WHAT THEY SAID

"The paintings in Damien Hirst's sad new show at Gagosian are not paintings at all; or rather, they're generic-to-bad photo-realist efforts. Any semi-adept student... could have made them. But this isn't what makes Hirst's paintings sad... What's sad about Hirst's new show is that this rebel of 1988... chose to render such run-of-the-mill sensationalist subjects in such run-of-the-mill ways."

Jerry Salz, Village Voice

"Hirst's flat-footed pictures... ignore photo-realism's first goals... And absent invention, they hang there like corpses. Warhol did it all better... The era of the giant strutting ego as the amusing subject of art at this moment seems wincingly passé."

Michael Kimmerman, The New York Times

Comments