Damien Hirst has long been one of the biggest names in Contemporary Art, and as the leader of the YBAs (young British artists) with a penchant for the shocking, he has been a rockstar figure in the London art scene since the 80s. He is also reportedly Britain’s richest living artist, with his wealth valued at £215m in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List. Sadly, wealth doesn’t always follow talent, and in 2009 Hirst’s solo at the Wallace Collection in London received “one of the most unanimously negative responses to any exhibition in living memory”. On January 12, Gagosian galleries opened an exhibition of “Spot Paintings” by Damien Hirst, which is the first solo exhibition to be simultaneously held at all 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide. While any exhibition of his work generates a storm of press, this show in particular has been featured on every blog, website, magazine and newspaper from London to New York to Hong Kong and back again, and the ink (and venom) is still flowing weeks after the show’s opening. Why? Critical responses to the exhibition range from boredom to hatred and back again, but as Emily Corlucci suggests, perhaps his greatest achievement is his power to piss people off…? He has been called “the Mr Brainwash of High Art” and his use of studio assistants to do pretty much all of his work has attracted widespread criticism. Of course at this point someone always pipes up “but Da Vinci had studio assistants!” When Hirst is commissioned to paint the Sistine ceiling, this argument may hold water, but not when it comes to painting multicoloured spots on a white canvas. Luckily, Hirst has a good reason for outsourcing his painting; “I only ever made five spot paintings myself … And my spots I painted are shite.” I hired assistants because “I couldn’t’ be fucking arsed doing it.” Fair enough then. I’m sure Da Vinci felt the same way. Even Sir David Hockney has joined the anti-Hirst brigade, with posters for Hockers’ upcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy including the tagline “All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally”. As an indication of Hirst’s power to piss people off, this is pretty impressive. Most infuriatingly, the fact that Hirst openly admits that he doesn’t even make any of his spot paintings (or that there are over 1,400 in existence, or even that they are almost universally accepted by critics as being utterly average) seems to have no impact on their soaring value. Spot paintings have sold for as much as £1.8 million, far outpricing his Butterfly Wing paintings, which are infinitely better. Never underestimate the value of the iconic. Or the value of pissing people off… Having said all this, before you think that all of Hirst’s work is like the Spot Paintings – repetitive, unoriginal, monotonous and downright annoying – it might be wise to check out these three flashes of brilliance: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, A Thousand Years and In and Out of Love.  All made in 1991, they are interesting, provocative and morbidly beautiful. Pity he peaked so early.   Reviews and commentary on the Gagosian stunt (let’s be honest, it’s hardly an exhibition) are everywhere, read some interesting ones here and here and see a hilariously brilliant video here.
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