Damien Hirst: The State of the Art

During my eight months in London, I have taken a lot of visitors to the Tate Modern, London’s largest and most well-known gallery for modern and contemporary art. The reactions have always been varying to a great degree: Some of them just loved it and some of them were looking at me to check whether I was crazy for liking this stuff that “they could have painted themselves… in kindergarten.” One of my very favourite installations at Tate Modern up to now is still a single glass of water on a glass shelf, strangely entitled An Oak Tree. The artist argues that just like the Christian idea of transubstantiation, where wine is traditionally believed to actually become Jesus’s blood, so can his glass of water become an oak tree to the true believer in art. Yes, to me this is art.

But first of all, I want to draw attention to the Tate Modern’s current and frequently discussed retrospective of the work of Damien Hirst, a show that has been four years in the planning. Hirst is famous for his extravagant view on art and I have to admit that – up to now – I hadn’t really been able to appreciate his work, but Channel 4’s accompanying documentary on the Hirst exhibition (featuring Noel Fielding) has opened my eyes.

“All art is about immortality.” (Damien Hirst)

It is incredible to see how much work has gone into this exhibition: a shark had to be flown in and sunk into a large glass box containing formaldehyde (uncannily entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living), butterflies had to be specially bread (and are made drunk), thousands of pills had to be sorted and meticulously arranged, a security vault had to be built in order to exhibit his work For the Love of God, a skull covered in diamonds worth 14 mio. pounds.

“He’s Oscar Wilde in so many ways… but his is the importance of NOT being earnest.” (Bono, U2)

“It’s amazing what you can do with an A-Level in art, twisted imagination, and a chainsaw.” (Damien Hirst)

But instead of describing his art in words, why don’t you all have a quick first look at pieces of art that brought the artist 111 mio. pounds in a single auction:

“Butterflies give us hope because they look alive when they’re dead. They’re not rotting corpses.” (Damien Hirst)

And here’s the whole documentary on the first ever British retrospective of Damien Hirst’s work. Invest 46 minutes into this highly interesting and stunning video and get to have a private look at Mr. Death (a nickname made from his name’s letters):

In 1936 German philosopher Walter Benjamin claimed that the possibility of a mechanical reproduction deprives the work of art off its aura. Maybe this is true: Da Vincis can be found on postcards and posters and you can buy reprints of Picasso. This development may have found its climax in Andy Warhol’s deliberate mass production and multiplication of images and imagery in pop art. Damien Hirst’s installations are a way to escape this movement and to give art back its aura. You cannot easily reproduce his work as it encapsulates all senses: you need to feel the butterflies on your skin, you need to smell the ashtrays and the bull’s head, and you need to see the imperfection of the apparently perfect dots.

These sneak peaks at the Hirst retrospective have made me want to grab a chainsaw, cut my piggy bank in half and to book a flight to London. Donations are highly welcome!

And please, do not hesitate to let me know your personal opinion on Damien Hirst and the state of contemporary art in general in the comments.