Little Glass House of Horrors: Taking Damien Hirst Seriously
No one can deny that Damien Hirst worked hard to make his reputation as the leading enfant terrible of the so-called yBas. Whatever one thinks of him, Hirst—whose institutional ascension was made a foregone conclusion by the “Young British Artists I” exhibition in the Saatchi Gallery in London a decade ago—does not lack talent, energy, or ambition. His latest provocation, however, was weak and not at all impressive. His stunt of congratulating, on the first year anniversary of September 11, the perpetrators for having created a “visually stunning work of art” backfired and was followed, a week later, by a meek retraction and apology. 1 Hirst’s artistic production does contain at least one work of significant disturbance. That work, A Hundred Years, from 1990, was again on view at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg as part of “Blast to Freeze,” a large survey exhibition of twentiethcentury British art mounted in the fall of 2002.2 By his own account, Hirst tackles the big themes of life and death. Given that the attacks of 2001 and the subsequent (and continuing) perpetual preemptive “war on terror” have purportedly reminded us that “the real” can reach us even (or especially) where we believed it had been banished, the time is right to question Hirst’s work and its sensational effects. The sublime hits, but the cheap thrill merely bothers.
KeywordsFormaldehyde Depression Income Expense Tate
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- 3.Julian Stallabrass, High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s (London: Verso, 1999), hereafter cited by page number in the text. See also the essays in Stallabrass, Duncan McCorquodale, and Naomi Siderfin, eds., Occupational Hazard: Critical Writing on Recent British Art (London: Black Dog Publishing, 1998).Google Scholar
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