Damien Hirst at the Gagosian

Jacob Mikanowski in The Point:

Hirstspot-690x406In its material expenditure and visual profligacy, Hirst’s work is a return to the Baroque. Looking at a survey of Hirst’s work is like strolling through collections of the Schloss Ambras, the castle in Innsbruck where the Habsburgs stored all their weird treasures: coral crucifixes and golden salt cellars, paintings of freaks, cripples and madmen, sculptures of skeletons wearing their rotting skin. This kind of collection was called a wunderkammer, or wonder-room. Two kinds of objects predominated: the memento mori or reminder of mortality, and the lusus naturae or joke of nature. The purpose of these collections was ostensibly pedagogical, but what they really did was exalt their owners’ fearlessness and mastery. This is the tradition Hirst’s practice comes out of, as distant from the strictures of high modernism as it is from the pieties of postmodernism. Perhaps by honoring power and reveling in cruelty it comes closer than either to the mood of our times.

Hirst has always benefited from the presumption that everything he did was ironic, but his work is really rooted in a kind of guileless belief disguised as cynicism. He was a rocker, not a mod. The Spot show is disappointing not because it is disingenuous, but because it’s tame. A few years ago, in a conversation with Hans Ulrich Olbrist, Hirst said he wanted to create a work of art that would kill you (think plutonium sculpture) or at the very least would punch you in the face. Now it looks like he’d settle for a kiss on the cheek.

More here.