On my way to the Whitney Biennial, I stopped by Gagosian Gallery across the street to take in the Damien Hirst show, "End of an Era." Gagosian's uptown souk is reminiscent of the old Andre Emmerich Gallery on 57th Street: it has a main room made for showing and a bunch of side venues, public and private, which are really more like viewing rooms in a fashion house or examination rooms in a doctor's office. It's a nice architectural trick to put the client-buyer-patient psychologically off balance.
So the Hirst show is about the main room, which presents a group of rather stiffly painted images of dull jewels, a wall-sized golden case filled with shelves of cubic zirconia, and in the middle, a calf's head in a vitrine, in a formaldehyde atmosphere, superciliously decorated with a mirrored diadem. Rather saucily, the calf's tongue sticks out at a rakish angle, and the brain spilling out of the back of the severed animal's skull has a pleasing texture. One is put in mind by this piece of the Scottish breakfast dish Haggis, a sheep's stomach filled with hot oatmeal.
In short, every object in this lousy show points towards this rather delightful head and to the answer of the question, "What era exactly is ending?" which is, I think, the era of Hirst's sexual attraction to dead animals. All of the philosophizing about mortality, prominent in the titles and manifestoes of Hirstism, has been a blind or a mask of the sensual fascination Hirst has for rotting flesh. The beasts of the field are his porn, and like Bluebeard the lady murderer, it appears that he must bring farm flesh under his control on order to get a pop in his pants.
Like an old man going back for one last fling in the cathouse, Hirst's grinning calf is his final fling at a dirty little thrill or which he has had to create a grand pavilion of riches and gilts and showmanship, lest his true, very erotic purpose be discovered. I guess all that is left for a now flaccid Damien is some croquet and a bit of falconry in Dubai. Thanks for the ride, Farmer John.
"Damien Hirst: End of an Era," Jan. 30-Mar. 6, 2010, at Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10075.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).