Again and again, on this site I’ve returned to exhibitions from the YBAs of the 90s. Damien Hirst, the most famous of them all probably, relies more on spectacle these days than the mature style of his contemporaries Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin and Gary Hume, for example.
Gagosian, with its black clad security guards and show-off cavernous spaces, is a perfect venue for Hirst, who’s come up with a variety of spectacular installations to be on display there for the next few months. This time, we’ve gone all black (and it’s hard not to think of that Fast Show sketch as you walk around).
There’s black butterfly-patterned wallpaper throughout. There’s some skulls too, another Hirst motif, encased by black-sprayed insects. These insects are also packed onto monochrome canvases on the wall - the heaviness of it all brought to mind Richard Serra’s oil stick paintings, which I’d seen in the same gallery a couple of years back.
Hirst also claims Malevich’s black square as an influence - of course he does. But the most spectacular works of all are more like HR Giger: huge open sarcophagi, some with figures inside that bear a close resemblance for the Swiss visionary’s Alien figures, featured in that 70s horror movie classic.
Criticising the show for bad taste is obviously pointless. Such a view is rendered redundant when you have works to see like Proteus, a 2.4m bronze statue of the unfortunately deformed Joseph Merrick - aka the Victorian freakshow attraction better known as the Elephant Man - in contrapposto pose. Hirst, tongue firmly in cheek, reaches for classical art and ancient Egypt just to mock it in an excessive way. He’s also laughing at us, of course, for getting annoyed at such excess.
Talk about a mature style!
Damien Hirst: Relics and Fly Paintings is at Gagosian (London). 05 June 2021-