I am forever bumping into Damien Hirst. First it was the animal heads in formaldehyde, then came the pharmaceutical boxes, the dead butterfly wheels, and of course the skulls. You can’t forget the skulls.
It all started 10 years ago in San Francisco’s MOMA, when I walked into a gallery asking myself “why on earth would you put a cow’s head in a box?” Giving something so grotesque a wide berth, I refused to give it further thought. But such things are rarely forgotten.
5 years later I was eating lunch in the canteen of a large London law firm. The paintings quietly hanging on the walls were pharmaceutical boxes, selling food, not drugs. This seemed remarkably ironic for a law firm, not to mention a canteen. Then I noticed the drug company, Hirst. I didn’t need an art guide to figure that one out.
2 years after that I was in Helsinki when I came across a retrospective of the Young British Artists, including Tracey Emin as well as Hirst. Here I was confronted with thousands of dead butterflies, a skull encrusted with diamonds and dot paintings representing pharma drugs. The juxtaposition of these different works, along with a greater understanding of the YBA movement, finally gave me some sense of what the hell he was on about.
Last year it was Auckland with spinning wheels of paint and colourful skulls. It seemed remarkably benign after the butterflies.
His macabre representations and commentary on our relationship with death are all well and good. But mostly, I am annoyed about all the animals that had to die (particularly the butterflies) for the art.
I don’t seek out Hirst, he finds me.