Large scale and large number
It must be the sensation of the season in Paris. At the Fondation Cartier, Damien Hirst (born in 1965), the superstar from the 1990s and former leader of the Young British Artists, is displaying his new work in his usual fashion – on a very large scale and in large numbers.
Painted by himself
But this time the show is comprised of 30 paintings which the master of scandals of all kinds has painted himself. The canvases were selected from among 107 that have been produced over three years since 2017. They all depict cherry trees in blossom.
Treated like an obsession
The subject has been treated like an obsession, in the manner of Pop Art, with branches that are more or less covered in buds, compositions more or less saturated with flowers, skies with varying shades of blue.
Pieces of chewing gum
Up close the blossom is created using thick paintbrush strokes that resemble pieces of chewing gum stuck to the canvas, from which they also often borrow the characteristic pink colour. The background of the sky is uniform. We don’t see the trunk, only one part of the tree.
After Van Gogh
It is all very colourful and photogenic. Here Hirst has taken an archetype of beauty, a painting by Van Gogh from 1890 in a less naturalistic mode, and made it much larger.
Returning to painting
For a long time the artist has dreamed of returning to painting. In 2010 he had already exhibited his canvases inspired by Francis Bacon at the Wallace Collection, London’s temple to classicism: which was a massive flop. Here we go again. It’s decorative yet cold, without spirit, without depth, humour or irony.
Retrospective at Tate
The artist is having trouble reinventing himself. This issue came to light at his super-show, the retrospective at the Tate in London in 2012. His butterflies packed together on canvases, his paintings of coloured dots representing medication, his animals suspended in large aquariums of formaldehyde…
Despair, death and marketing
All the most fascinating things about him, his relationship with death, his expressions of despair, were established during his early years. What remains are his business and marketing skills. In this vein people spoke of his sale in 2008 of a stock of artworks at Sotheby’s entitled “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”, which brought in a little over 200 million dollars.
Pharmacy again and again
We note that today he continues to produce works in parallel that resemble those from the past, such as the series of variations of “Pharmacy” exhibited until 22 September 2021 at Gagosian in Paris. We also note that he has attempted to ride the NFT wave with his recent production.
The Wreck of the Unbelievable
We could grant him the fact that the incredibly huge exhibition based on the fiction of a sunken ship containing treasure, displayed at the Palazzo Grassi and at the Punta della Dogana in Venice in 2017 with the poetic title “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, was utterly impressive due to its extraordinary format.
Contemporary art trophies
Publicity stunts are not enough. Hirst is targeting a section of moneyed collectors who buy contemporary art trophies who are no longer aware of the fact that he has stopped representing our times.
Conceptual art is bullshit
When I interviewed Damien Hirst – it was in 2010; in 2021 he declined my request – I was struck by two things. The first was that he said that his relationship with art had changed because he had stopped his addictions. “You know, I stopped drinking three years ago. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a myth, isn’t it? I had 20 amazing years. I shouted. I drank…” The second was that since then he has no longer believed in conceptual art: “I had a flirtation with conceptual art for 20 years. But now I think it’s bullshit.
What John Lennon said
You know what Lennon said about the avant-garde? ‘It’s the French word for bullshit.’ I love art that I’m able to see, to appreciate.”
The art of making money
Damien Hirst is smart and he is remarkably adept at making money. As Andy Warhol is alleged to have said: “Making Money is an art and good business is the best art”. Nevertheless that doesn’t make Hirst a good painter.
Until 2 January 2022. Fondation Cartier. www.fondationcartier.com.
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