Hirst Hits the Spot

Damien Hirst: LSD. Courtesy Gagosian.© Damien Hirst/ Science Ltd, 2012Photography Prudence Cuming Associates











International art-star Damien Hirst, who in the late-’80s helped incite the Young British Artists fracas, has produced vitrine art (sharks and other taxidermist beasties suspended in formaldehyde), spin paintings, spot paintings, medicine cabinets, butterfly collages, and bad Bacons. Only the latter have been deemed total failures. But stick around. They will be back. In his poly-headed oeuvre (including spectacles such as the lucrative ’08 auction of his own works) Hirst’s middle finger is always prominent.

The spot paintings, for instance, are now deployed globally in the 11 Gagosian sales venues. No museum could offer, as does the Empire of Art, “THE COMPLETE SPOT PAINTINGS 1986-2011.” The closest rival to such global outreach, the Guggenheim franchise, only has five platforms: New York, Venice, Berlin, Bilbao, and Abu Dhabi.

How global can a gallery get? The Gagosian website lists: three galleries in New York (980 Madison, 555 W. 24, 522 W. 21; to Feb. 18 ), two in London, and others in Beverly Hills, Rome, Paris Athens, Geneva, and Hong Kong. The gallery gamble is to cover all squares. Or is it to pander to impulse buying? Gain points for jet fuel savings?

The not unrelated museum game goes something like this: how many branches can you have – all more or less showing the same kind of art – without wrecking tourism. The so-called MoMA syndrome goes global. Art made familiar by media will always disappoint.  Surely, in the case of museums one might have the buildings themselves as a draw. Alas, the Bilbao Effect seems only to apply to Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim. Rarely does anyone go to a museum just to see the building. In terms of the Guggenheims, alas, once you are inside, the art is the same as the art you have already seen back home. What you have experienced  is a brand. When you visit any of the Gagosian/Hirst eleven spot-painting show, you double your fun. What you experience is two brands: Gagosian and Hirst.


Hirst: Cuff Links.© Damien Hirst/ Science Ltd, 2012Photography Prudence Cuming Associates















Existing Through the Gift Shop

I have only viewed the three New York spot displays, so I will never qualify for the signed print offered to those who make it to all eleven, the print that will be “dedicated personally to you .” I can say this though: in New York both the 24th Street and the Madison Ave Gagosians come with gift shops. First there was Keith Haring’s stand-alone Pop Shop; then there were Marakami hokum shops in museums showing that artist’s retrospective; and now here’s the Hirst Spot Shops. Has the joke gone too far? No, not really. Is this art for the people (as it was with Haring) or is it Hirst making fun of museums?

Even we who are not jetsetters or eschew such anti-ecological transports can participate. Souvenirs abound. I myself would have sprung for a scarf, but none were offered. A missed opportunity, I think. But then again, the art itself,  once sold,  is merely a souvenir of the spectacle of 11 simultaneous exhibitions, right?


And the Twain Shall Meet

Is there any other way we can spot the convergence of galleries and art museums? Both produce catalogs of the requisite weight and verbal persiflage. Whereas museums can be rented for special events, but as  high-end art galleries resist that income stream as too messy. Galleries sell art; but, when necessary, so do museums. It’s called refining their collections. And whereas most museums, but not all, have collections, commercial art galleries have stock.


Damien Hirst: Installation at Gagosian Chelsea (W. 21 St.)












© Damien Hirst/ Science Ltd, 2012
Photography Prudence Cuming Associates




Spots Before Your Eyes

The spot paintings are done by hired help, according to Hirst’s designs.  These  are generated by two simple rules: (1.) Equidistant deployment of spots and (2.) no color repeated in any dot in any one painting. Those who may think it has all been done before, by Kusama (on her body or everywhere) or Sol LeWitt (on walls instead of canvases, but with lines) are wrong. We still find it hard to believe that Kusama is sarcastic and Sol LeWitt was incapable of such.

Kusama: Self-Obliteration, 1968














Take a look at this website that show some spot/dot paintings by other artists. None have the insouciance of the Hirst spots. Or the commercial monomania.


Francois Morellet, Untitled. 1954.












Walter Robinson: Untitled. 1980s.









John Armleder: Untitled. N.D.












The good thing is that it doesn’t take long to look at the Hirst spots. You can speed right through, although it is not exactly the case that when you have seen a few you have seen them all. I found some surprises here and there. All are in the Madison Avenue three-floor venue. Amidst the majority of standard spot paintings, there are really, really small spot paintings, spot painting with half-dots at one edge, one spot painting clearly labeled “Controlled Substances” (giving away the pharmaceutical subtext of all these art pills), and, best of all, one painting with drippy dots, the canvas resting on the floor against a wall. Has it fallen? Is this a spot sport or a mistake? In terms of the first theory, I doubt it. There are no nails or screws on the wall above, and here, as everywhere, there are neatly attired guards in every room. More than in any museum.

One thought I had was that, at least in Chelsea, the Hirsts are more about the architecture of the galleries than about art, more about display. They make those all-white post-industrial rooms look gorgeous. Just imagine what they will do for your private airplane hanger or your Olympic size indoor swimming pool or the lobby of your condo in Abu Dhabi.

These dead –pan paintings are place holders for art. Rather than artworks, they are symbols of art.


Hirst: Controlled Substances.

















When Bad Boys Collide

For what it’s worth, former Bad Boy of Brit-Pop, David Hockney, now showing at the Royal Academy in London, has been quoted as casting aspersions upon Hirst for not actually painting his own works and using assistants instead:

Hockney, seen as Britain’s greatest living painter, believes that artists should produce their own works. He said: ‘I used to point out at art school, you can teach the craft, it’s the poetry you can’t teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft.’

Hockney quoted a Chinese proverb that to paint ‘you need the eye, the hand and the heart. Two won’t do’. He added: ‘The other great thing they said – I told this to Lucian Freud – is, ‘‘painting is an old man’s art’’. I like that!’

                                                                               Mail Online…Jan. 3, 2012.


David Hockney: Portrait of an Artist, 1971.









Really, hasn’t Hockney ever heard of Duchamp or LeWitt? Let’s face it, Hockney peaked with his California scenes. Thereafter he might as well have let assistants paint for him. He has been so out of touch. Since it is obviously good to be bad, no pretty cellphone drawings or British landscapes will bring Hockney back to reality, or make him bad again.

Is David miffed that recently when Hirst wavered and decided to actually paint, he riffed on Francis Bacon and not on him? Bacon was really bad. You know, falling in love with and living with the man he caught robbing his house. And, I am told, drunk for 60 years.

I look at it this way. There are MGM artists and Warner Brother artists. And then there is Poverty Row. Hirst aspires to MGM. Hockney has always been sort of Republic Pictures. Maybe Disney. Bacon, with all those tortured bodies and Inquisition scenes,  was always rather Hammer Studios.

And now in the wings, there’s Banksy who is definitely Warner Brothers. Banksy’s success probably mean we may soon have to call last year’s Bad Boy, Sir Damien.

In terms of Hirst’s on-the- spot extravaganza, some sequences are better than others. I hate the Op Art results when Hirst deploys the large spots so that there is one lodged in each corner of the canvases. Ouch. All-over is best. Tondos end up too Op also. So, as the wise guy used to say, if some are better than others, then it must be art.

Hirst is in the long line of artists who want to have their cake and eat it. It’s art against art. Is he more like Duchamp or Dali? Is he more like Picabia or Warhol? Hirst is our greatest satirist, the Daumier du jour.


To sample John Perreault’s  sand paintings you may preview  online the Kauai Museum/Naropa University catalog for Mark Van Wagner and John Perreault: Drawing from Sand, with a short essay by art critic Peter Frank.  Click  Here.  The exhibition ran from Nov. 12 to Jan. 20 in Lihue, HI. It will travel to the Lincoln Gallery, Naropa University, Boulder, CO., opening March 16; thence to Gallery 125, Bellport, N.Y., from June 23 to July 15.

For easy access to 200 previous Artopia essays by topics, go to top bar, click on ABOUT, click on ARCHIVE, then scroll down to listing by Headlines.


John Perreault is on Facebook. You can also follow John Perreault on Twitter: johnperreault

For Art Cops cartoons and other videos on Youtube: John Perreault Channel.  

Main John Perreault  website. More of John Perreault’s art.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone