Cristina Ruiz: A long night in Hong Kong

Whoever said money can’t buy you happiness has not travelled from London to Hong Kong and back again in economy class in two days. The flights were long, the children were loud and the movies were stupid—but this trip marks the final, most gruelling leg of my Hirst spot tour and nobody said it would be easy.

The entrance to Gagosian's Hong Kong gallery, festively decorated for the New Year

Hong Kong—gateway to China and promised land for European and American contemporary art dealers who are rushing to open galleries here. Gagosian arrived a year ago with a Damien Hirst blingfest, which was very high on expensive materials and very short on new ideas. There was a baby version of the diamond skull, gold cabinets filled with precious stones and countless canvases with diamonds stuck on them. It was a huge hit, says the Gagosian gallery staffer on call the day I visit, the gallery’s most popular and successful show to date in Hong Kong.

The reaction to the spots has apparently also been enthusiastic. The locals can’t get enough of them. I am less enthused. I am tired and grumpy and can’t quite believe I have travelled halfway around the world to look at more damn spot paintings. My heart nearly skips a beat when I notice that two of them, both dating from 2008, have been painted on a background of light blue rather than white, something I’ve never seen before. This is what counts as excitement on the Hirst spot challenge.

In a market that is still defining itself, Hirst is the only living Western artist to amount to a sure thing here, so it’s no surprise that the London dealer Ben Brown, who has a gallery on the third floor of the Gagosian building, also has two Hirst spin paintings prominently on display in his current show of gallery artists.

What amazes me as I gaze at the spots is how fresh, even wet, the paint looks on many of them. How long will they last? A couple of years ago, I asked Dr Harriet Standeven, a conservation tutor for the Royal College of Art and the Victoria & Albert museum in London. Here’s what she said:

“Household gloss paints are considered durable by the coatings industry, but when put to artistic use, problems can occur. Gloss paints are harder and more brittle than artists’ oil paints, and are designed to be applied to a solid substrate such as wood or metal; if applied to flexible canvas they are prone to cracking. Furthermore, it is relatively easy to disrupt their smooth, glossy surface, and any damages can be difficult, if not impossible, to rectify.”

Food for thought.

Next stop: New York

The running tally

Return flights to Hong Kong: £588.32 ($931)

Taxi from airport to hotel: HK$340 ($44)

One night in hotel: HK$2,064 ($266)

Taxi from hotel to airport: HK $310 ($40)

Total today: $1281


Published Mon, 06 Feb 2012 19:05:00 GMT

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Cristina Ruiz

Over the next six weeks, Cristina Ruiz, our editor-at-large, has taken up the challenge to try to visit all 11 Gagosian galleries showing Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. Follow her as she blogs about her travels here.