Rainy weekend so visited the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern. A tight retrospective of his work I think the brochure said, which I suppose means he had to choose the best of the best - I don't know if this meant the most iconic, most expensive but I took my 13 year old with me who's observations are always revealing. It's the sort of exhibition you wouldnt want to come alive at night (Night in the Museum style) what with it's sharks, mass of dead and alive flies, cut in half cows, calves, sheep, although I liked the butterflies. He seems to be fascinated by life and death but even more so by decay. The cigarette buts, things in the process of rotting (the smell of cigarettes decaying is revolting) and the fascination with pills and potions to keep us artificially alive (kept reminding me of Will Self's 'how the dead live) - as are the sharks and cows in their glass coffins waiting to be kissed. But the exhibition made every visitor think and stare and chat which is what art should do. He's fiercely commercial which I know many sceptics say make him a fraud. I don't think that's true. Just because Hirst has his eye on the bottom line all the time doesn't make him less talented, just perhaps more focused on what he feels will sell rather than what he wants to produce - which I suppose could be in itself what sells. This doesn't make him less talented, just shallow.
It's his mid life retrospective I suppose. Most of us have crisis he has a retrospective - or perhaps that's what mid life crisis is all about - looking back and going 'agh' what have I done/not done/achieved/who can I blame. He can't blame any one. He's made money, friends, contacts, been hailed by the likes of Blair as being fulcrul to the whole cool Britannia - creative and commercial not impoverished artist who dies in obscurity and realises his success only when dead a long time. Perhaps it's just a personality thing and people don't like the person which is completely different - the dislike of Hirst is personal not professional. I found the butterfly stain glass window stunning and beautiful and morbid and ugly at the same time but from the blurb on the walls there he seems to want to contradict himself a lot. His work is accessible and popularist which is good. Some of it is nonsense - the wall cabinet, the first thing you see painted in Dulux (which sponsored him at Art school I am told) is an 'exhibit'. Tom wanted to open it but I said you couldn't. Pity, it would probably have SUCKER written in large black Dulux paint inside.
We watched a programme on Sky Arts about it when we got home and Damien talking about his work walking around the spaces we had. He talked about selling his work direct to the market and making millions. That shows an incredible business acumen, self belief, possibly arrogance, although he described it as part of the art of and in itself as the art was to do with worth and value and gold and diamonds. Making his art perform for him so I supposed that makes him a performing artist. He's a billionaire so he doesn't need to care what others think of him now, not that I'm sure he ever did which is unusual for creative types. They tend to have they layer of empathy that reaches out to people but perhaps money changes all that. For what it's worth my 13 year old thinks his work is more to do with science than art and people's sense of the ridiculous and appreciation of the eccentric. And that it has no soul. Hirst didn't have a room for 'soul'. Perhaps he never will.