Damien Hirst is very much an artist for 21st century Britain. A man driven by fame and money and obsessed with immortality, he’s a reflection of our own naval gazing, self-obsessed vanity.
Hirst is driven by concepts rather than fine brush strokes; his art is a by-product of clever ideas. That doesn’t mean that his work can’t be beautiful. But its cleverness lends the pieces a certain cynicism and soullessness. This lack of depth was thrown into sharp relief by the passion in the work of Yayoi Kusama, the Tate Modern’s other big exhibition; her life is consumed by art and her works throb with her very heart and soul. Kusama wouldn’t have found time to make comedy World Cup anthems with Groucho Club mates.
Seeing Hirst’s work at a collective also served to show how stagnant he is; he repeats himself constantly, but what to what end? Every work he’s ever produced, as he says so himself in the short film to introduce the $50million diamond skull, confronts death. And while the butterfly paintings such as Sympathy in White Major, were beautiful and fragile in contrast to the gruesome and brutal A Thousand Years, the works show little development in ideas or technique. It’s interesting to consider what he may have produced if Saatchi hadn’t championed and financed him from such an early age. How much of his soul did he trade in to become the rich and famous artist he is today? Has he got a cow slowly coming back to life in his the attic of his Devon mansion?
But regardless of what you think of his art, I defy anyone to come out this exhibition with nothing to say. Hirst is a tremendously important and confrontational artist. Along with his fellow YBAs he brought art into the main arena and shocked people into caring about it in a way a public brainwashed by water lilies hadn’t for years. And I think that’s his greatest legacy and one that will stay will us long after that shark’s shrivelled into oblivion.