Artists Exhibitions United Kingdom

Thumbs down (bar one) for Damien Hirst at Tate Modern

What the London critics say about the shark-in-formaldehyde artist's retrospective

Damien Hirst in front of his work "I am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds" in Tate Modern, London (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

A much publicised show of Britain’s ageing enfant terrible Damien Hirst opened at Tate Modern on 4 April and the reviews have been less than friendly. The artist has responded in an interview with the The Daily Telegraph (which, coincidentally, carried the most favourable review, see below), saying: “People don’t like contemporary art but all art starts life as contemporary—I can’t really see a difference. Michelangelo was definitely getting that, everybody was getting it. I’m sure there were people in caves going, ‘I like your cave but I hate that crap you’ve got on the wall’.

The critic to get the most media attention has been Julian Spalding, who published a book just days before the show’s opening titled Con Art–Why you ought to sell your Damien Hirsts while you can. Writing in the Independent, Spalding says: “Some people argue that Damien Hirst is a great artist. Some say he is an execrable artist, and others put him somewhere more boring in between. They are all missing the point. Damien Hirst isn’t an artist. His works may draw huge crowds when they go on show in a five-month-long blockbuster retrospective at Tate Modern next week. But they have no artistic content and are worthless as works of art. They are, therefore, worthless financially.”

The morning of the press view, Spalding was denied entry to Tate Modern during an interview with the BBC. He complained: “The Tate’s job is to encourage debate about art… The fact that I’m not allowed to talk about the work in front of [it] is extraordinary. This gallery does not belong to the Tate [management]. It belongs to the people of Britain.”

“Blasting his way through the polite façade of British culture, he took conceptualism from the margins to the mainstream, transforming London from an artistic backwater in a beacon of the avant garde. For this alone he earned himself a place among our greats. But is he any good?… The Tate may try to drag him back into its aesthetic domain, but this show—however atmospheric—comes too late. Hirst reached his apogee with his hubristic 2008 Sotheby’s sale.”
Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

“For reasons that I don’t understand, he insists on presenting himself as a fraud who is somehow pulling the wool over the eyes of the public. And that’s a pity, because in Tate Modern’s full-scale retrospective he comes across as a serious—if wildly uneven—artist.” Dorment ends his review saying: “In many ways this is a difficult show, but I left it with a sense of Hirst as an artist whose moral stature can no longer be questioned.”
Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph

“Tate curator Ann Gallagher has done her best to strip away the excess and repetition of Hirst’s art, but it won’t go away. It’s what he does. My problem with Hirst is not the money (Picasso made lots, and nobody cares), nor the vulgarity he has opted for, but his capitulation as an artist. He could have been so much better. It is an enormous disappointment.”
Adrian Searle, The Guardian

“He is either the presiding genius of contemporary British art, justifiably making a fortune by thrilling audiences with his memorable reflections on life and death. Or he is an empty con artist, making a fool of us and raking in millions from buyers with more money than sense.”
Mark Brown, The Guardian

“The exhibition comes as the price of his work has fallen and critics have questioned the value of his famous dead animals suspended in formaldehyde and his spot paintings. Since the heady days of 2008, the price of Mr Hirst’s work has fallen even further than the wider contemporary art market, according to data from Art Market Research, a London organisation… In 2008, the peak price for the most expensive 25% of his work was nine times what it was in 2000, but it is now being bought for less than three and a half times the 2000 price.”
Hannah Kuchler, The Financial Times

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Comments

20 Apr 12
15:17 CET

DR. MAIE YANNI, CAIRO

Here's to Julian Spalding, Adrian Searle, Mark Brown and Hannah Kuchler . "Hear,Hear all ye good people "! Maie Yanni Cairo, Egypt

20 Apr 12
15:17 CET

THOMAS PROSZOWSKI, LONDON UK

I think Damien's art embraced the essence of contemporary art in current climate in art world. First of all hi proved the highest value for contemporary art, hi managed to elevate artist position on the level of respect to the art. Hi created the notion that the art can live its own life independently somehow being able to tease audience's view. Hi also was able to give us that thrill of art's vanity over value. Damien had his 5 minutes of showcase and hi made most of it in a great british style, it wouldn't have happened anywhere ellse but bitterly expensive and utterly shocking just on free British soil

18 Apr 12
18:19 CET

RICHARD LUND, COLUMBIA SC

Like it or not Hirst will be remembered, He has already made a place in the History books ( positive or not) . I may not like many of his works ( that is subjective). He can create a spectacular works of art. I like to think the art world is a better place with his art in it (even if its freshness is wearing off) .

18 Apr 12
18:23 CET

MARION, MILWAUKEE

Hirst, in my eyes is much like Thomas Kinkade. Where Kinkade fills the religious-slanted idealistic nostalgia that a great number of people find comfort in, Hirst fills the off-kilter-conceptual-boldness that many collectors and, in general, wealthy people interested in the "artsy" scene want to associate with. It's bold without having to be concerned about offending anyone, just as Kinkade is pretty without having to think a whole lot, if at all. They accomplish the same thing on opposite ends of the spectrum...and thus Hirst has a more "accepted" stage. He once had fantastic ideas and created some great work...some of the best at that time...but from this show, I think it's obvious he left the real artist behind about 15-20 years ago and is perfectly content with rehashing worn-out, largely uninteresting, and sterile ideas

18 Apr 12
19:53 CET

MARION, MILWAUKEE

Hirst, in my eyes is much like Thomas Kinkade. Where Kinkade fills the religious-slanted idealistic nostalgia that a great number of people find comfort in, Hirst fills the off-kilter-conceptual-boldness that many collectors and, in general, wealthy people interested in the "artsy" scene want to associate with. It's bold without having to be concerned about offending anyone, just as Kinkade is pretty without having to think a whole lot, if at all. They accomplish the same thing on opposite ends of the spectrum...and thus Hirst has a more "accepted" stage. He once had fantastic ideas and created some great work...some of the best at that time...but from this show, I think it's obvious he left the real artist behind about 15-20 years ago and is perfectly content with rehashing worn-out, largely uninteresting, and sterile ideas

13 Apr 12
21:58 CET

STUCK, LOS ANGELES

Damian Damian, Hirst suck-cess is a very portent example of his-story in action. This isn't about art, it isn't even about commerce - it's about feeding an mega-ego. the Stuckist have a great website regarding Hirst concept of "homage" or theft of ideas.

13 Apr 12
19:54 CET

SHARI, PHILADELPHIA AREA

I don't feel that Hirst's works are artistic as much as they are dramatic decorative objects. I am an abstract artist and my work is cheerfully vibrant (www.spkcreative.com). I paint for myself because it makes me happy. Of course it thrills me when someone else feels the same and chooses to exhibit or purchase one of my paintings. Having said that, what one considers art is subjective and the best-selling artists usually benefit from a great patron and representation. I don't have any great patrons or representation and it doesn't faze me when people don't like lively abstracts that aren't weird or gloomy. I believe in my art and I've seen the delight on the faces of those who get what I do. Maybe some people get Hirst in a different way than me and take pleasure in it.

13 Apr 12
15:21 CET

ROGER GREGORY, TAMWORTH

The bottom of the barrel has been scrapped for the past twenty or so years. Enough of the second rate ideas, many of which belonged to other people. What this country needs is great art.

13 Apr 12
15:21 CET

LUMP SCULPTURE STUDIO, MELBOURNE

Favourable or unfavourable I think all of the attention is well deserved.

11 Apr 12
19:55 CET

MIA , SYDNEY

In arts never ending quest for the new, Hirst fit the bill for 80's. Ofcourse now that he has risen so far, and has probably peeked, we want to find more meaning in the work than was there before. The same critics that once launched Hirst's name, are now helping to nail his coffin. Art's a fickle bussiness. Always has been, and always will be. That's why artists like Hirst make all the money they can, while they can, not because they're con artists, but because they understand how easily they can fall out of favour, and be discarded.

10 Apr 12
16:16 CET

SIMON WOODRUFF, LONDON

The most uninspiring of all the exhibitions I have ever seen at the Tate. Marketing man - yes, a great artist? No evidence to suggest he is any different to any other art school graduate.

10 Apr 12
14:32 CET

DEREK DEY, HERLEV, DENMARK

The prerequisite of great art is relatedness, first from the internal unconscious to conscious acts of creativity then between art and viewer. There is however elements of dissociation in Hirst's work which is better described by George Hagman in his study of Andy Warhol. In a very real sense this split within the act of the creative processes leaves us with some aesthetics and some sociopathy - a coldness and fragmentation which does not satisfy the natural human longing for wholeness, beauty, and joy. In many ways Hirst's works are now supported by a lust for fashionable advance and a marketplace which holds to economic propensities. However the real question lies within certain internal realities and what ultimately defines the creative act and the field of relatedness to which it also should belong. Derek Dey.

10 Apr 12
14:33 CET

ANGELA BARTLETT, SOUTHAMPTON

He didn't come across as an artist - more of an ideas man and the ideas don't prompt enough thought or discussion to make them interesting anymore. Might have been fresh and exciting in the 80s but now his work looks predictable and tame.

10 Apr 12
14:33 CET

ANNIE PATTERSON, FRANCE - FORMERLY UK

Thank goodness for someone honest enough to say it, well done Julian Spalding

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