Cristina Ruiz: On the continent: London to Paris

The alarm goes off at 4am; just over an hour later I am boarding a train to Paris from St Pancras station. It's not fun getting up at this ungodly hour but at €39, the 5:40am train to Paris was the best deal I could find, so here I am. Today, my Damien Hirst spot tour begins in earnest.

Dedicated fellow quester Theodora Baum says "the show only works if someone actually sees it all"

Six hundred people have now registered to take part in the Gagosian challenge to visit all 11 galleries. How many will complete the trek? And how many will travel economy all the way?

Our first international stop: Gagosian's gallery on the rue de Ponthieu in Paris

8:55am: I sleep until we are approaching Paris. I obviously have Hirst on my mind because the first thing I observe when I wake up is that the rising sun looks like a giant Hirst spot on the horizon.

I've got a ticket to ride

11am: I am the first person inside the Gagosian gallery. It is small and elegant, and the 23 paintings here look better to me than the spots did in London. Maybe it's because there's nobody in the gallery apart from the guard, the cleaner and me. I spend 15 minutes examining Oxolinic Acid a 66in x 70in canvas made in 2007 because I am determined to take this spot viewing challenge seriously. Also, it's too early to check into my hotel and it's cold outside.

The painting is strangely mesmerising—the greens and yellows jump out at you first, then you notice the greys and blues. Patterns emerge and recede. This is fun. Art criticism-lite. To be honest, it's the first time I've looked at a spot painting for more than 15 seconds. They are weirdly hypnotic... Buddhist monks could use them as meditation tools.

I get my challenge card stamped and the gallery staff tells me I am not the first. Several fellow questers have already been here. Apparently, people are most worried about making it to the galleries in Rome and Athens, as they have little occasion to go there for work. And then, just as I'm leaving, something impossibly exciting happens: a fellow seeker enters the gallery. Her name is Theodora Baum, a 30-year-old freelance lawyer from Brussels. Paris is her first stop on the global spot tour but she's definitely taking this seriously—she's already booked her travel to all the galleries on the circuit.

So, why is she doing it? "Damien Hirst is covering the world with spots but the show only works if someone actually sees it all," she explains with the enthusiasm of a groupie. "People like the paintings; the critics can say what they want but they make people happy. Look at this," she says pointing to a large circular canvas in front of us, "I don't know why it works, but it works."

Tomorrow, Geneva.

The running tally

Taxi to St Pancras: £26.70 ($41)

Train to Paris: €39 ($50)

Hotel in Paris: €150 ($192)


Published Wed, 18 Jan 2012 08:48:00 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.