Arguably the most talked about man of the art world moment, Damien Hirst is currently exhibiting his collection of spot paintings worldwide at the Gagosian Galleries. Spanning 25 years, Hirst’s spot paintings – and there’s more than 300 of them – are quite simply rows of randomly coloured spots, of which only 5 were painting by the man himself. The rest were painted by his infamous assistants, which many have been quick to bash.
The member of the ‘Young British Artsits’ group and 1995 Turner Prize winner intended for these paintings to refer to pharmaceutical stimulants and narcotics, and might therefore by synonymous with his consistent theme of death. Hirst, however, has also noted their life-affirming quality: ”I was always a colorist, I’ve always had a phenomenal love of color… I mean, I just move color around on its own,” he said. “So that’s where the spot paintings came from—to create that structure to do those colors, and do nothing. I suddenly got what I wanted. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of color.”
Conceived as a single exhibition in multiple locations, The Complete Spot Paintings takes place across all of the Gagosian’s 11 galleries around the world, simultaneously. The Gagosian is even offering a signed Hirst spot painting to those lucky individuals who manage to visit all locations whilst the paintings are on show.
Included in the exhibition is the first spot painting Hirst created in 1986, to the most recent painting completed in 2011, which contains some 25,781 spots each 1mm in diameter, with no single colour ever repeated.
Artfinder has rounded up the reasons below why it’s worth a pop along to your nearest Gagosian to take a look for yourself – if only for the controversy and debate surrounding these “prefabricated” works. Happy spot hunting!
Ben Luke (London Evening Standard) on their lasting impression: “Initially, they can be enthralling as colours leap from the surface or sink into it, momentarily forming darting chains. Ghosts of the spots imprint your vision, creating an optical instability belying the rigorous grid.”
Adrian Searle (The Guardian) on their frustratingly addictive nature: “The titles of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings give them a slightly menacing, as well as a dangerously attractive, air: Cocaine Hydrochloride, Morphine Sulphate, Bovine Albumin, Butulinium Toxin A. Their relentless, insistent brightness feels almost bad for you [...] Yet they have no discernable secrets, and that’s part of the deal. Nothing more is revealed, however long you look. They’re as unsatisfying as cigarettes, calming but addictive [...] Everything is insistently frontal. I long for a black spot, a wobble, a smear.”
Sam Parker (Huffington Post) on the chaos of order (or the order of chaos): “Staring at the patterns of the dots sent the obsessive compulsive sides to our brains into overdrive. The human tendency to try and establish patterns in chaos had us almost subconsciously counting colours and drawing mental shapes to try and discern some conformity to how they’d been composed. It would be impossible though [...] for the human brain to produce anything truly ‘random’ in the scientific sense of the word. No matter how hard Hirst (or whichever assistant produced the piece) tried, he would be following patterns laid out somewhere in his subconscious. The Spot Paintings made me ponder the extent to which humans are truly capable of creating random chaos.”
Richard Dorment (The Telegraph) on the (lack of) meaning of spots: ”A Damien Hirst spot painting on its own is not a thing of great visual interest, or, rather, each one has exactly the same degree of interest, no more and no less [...] There is no such thing as a good as opposed to a bad spot painting [...] If the internet is deadening our individuality by making human beings indistinguishable from one another, why should art not reflect this? The spot paintings epitomise the cultural values of collectors willing to pay huge sums of money for art that does NOT express complex emotions or ideas [...] Hirst understands the world out there much better than I do, for whether you love his art or hate it, he knows his audience has no time or interest for any experience deeper or richer than the one he provides.”
Adrian Hamilton (The Independent) on Hirst-the-conceptualist: ”The question posed by Hirst is not really one of authenticity. Artists have always used assistants, laying down concepts or compositions for their pupils and assistants to complete. Contemporary artists have long since rejected concepts of personal creation for ideas of mass production, recycled imagery and synthetic materials [...] The fact that Hirst is quite so cavalier in his approach to originality is no reason to dismiss his very considerable talents as a conceptualist and, more recently, as a painter. Nor should his ambition be held against him. You only have to pop round to the Leonardo show to find an artist who wanted to encompass everything, including perfection. Hirst has never aspired to that, or not that we know of at any rate.”
Christopher Knight (LA Times) on Hirst-the-brand: “Every denunciation of the spot paintings, loud or mumbled, will contribute to driving traffic to the corporate gallery. There, where the cash register is kept discreetly out of sight, the brand on display beckons [...] During the show’s five-week run, the sun [will] never set on a Hirst spot-painting [...] Whatever the case, it’s really the market, not the spot paintings, on which today’s blazing sun never sets. Hirst’s work pictures that new world order — abstract, interchangeable portraits of post-millennial trade [...] Whether or not one likes them also doesn’t much matter. What matters is their recognizability as integral to the Hirst brand. This super-show, complete in its incompleteness, seals it [...] Hirst is Govert Flinck, not Rembrandt van Rijn; Adriaen van de Velde, not Jacob van Ruisdael. All four of those differently gifted, 17th century artists were ushered in with the birth of the big, beautiful art market. I’d certainly rather look at Rembrandt and Ruisdael than Flinck and Van de Velde, but all four of them made paintings that now hang in the Louvre.”
Why should you go? “You don’t understand. This is a really monumental project,” says Stefan Ratibor, director of Gagosian, London. Well said.
Where? 11 Gagosian Gallery locations: Madison Avenue, NYC; West 24th Street, NYC; West 21st Street, NYC; Camden Drive, Beverly Hills; Britannia Street, London; Davies Street, London; Rue de Ponthieu, Paris; Via Francesco Crispi, Rome; Merlin Street, Athens; Place de Longemalle, Geneva; Pedder Street Central, Hong Kong.
When? See Gagosian website for end dates.