What makes Damien Hirst a celebrity? Is it his auction record of nearly $20 million? Is it that he makes that kind of money selling dead animals in formaldehyde? Or is it that he can show up at the New York launch of what must be the largest multiple-gallery show in history -- all 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide -- and not seem to care at all?
As most art people have heard by now, Hirst has collaborated with Larry Gagosian to produce “The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011,” opening Jan. 12, 2012, at galleries around the globe, from Beverly Hills to Rome to Hong Kong, and including three spaces in New York. It's the kind of grandiose gesture that gave us a $100 million diamond-covered skull in 2007, and a two-day all-Hirst auction at Sotheby's London in 2008.
On view at the 10 a.m. press preview today at Gagosian’s 21st Street space were 14 of the colorful, if prosaic, grids of perfect circles. Most of the works were said to be on loan from private collections and public institutions -- and were not for sale.
For all the media attention thus far, the press preview was fairly sedate, with maybe 20 journalists wandering about the cavernous gallery. On the agenda was a 15-minute photo op with Hirst himself, but no interviews were allowed. At around 10:15, the artist drifted in, wearing dark jeans, a white blazer and a fluorescent orange Carhartt knit skull cap. He was blinged up, wearing several gold chains and plenty of rings. While he chatted in the corner with a few acquaintances, a publicist suggested that the journalists line up on the other side of the room to await their prize. No one was allowed to talk to Hirst, and no, no one was allowed to have their picture taken with him.
Gagosian Gallery director Millicent Wilner began with some statistics, her words echoing in the big room. She said that the smallest spot canvas is only ½ inch-by-one-inch, while the largest spots measure five feet in diameter. Hirst's most recent spot painting contains 25,781 spots, which are only 1mm each. Someone asked about the meaning of the works -- no doubt forgetting that we're the ones who provide that element -- and Wilner hesitated, but said that the series is “a move away from expressionist forms of art,” and referred to Minimalism and the pharmaceutical chemicals that provide the paintings with their titles. She also mentioned that a catalogue raisonné devoted solely to the spot paintings is in the works.
With that, Hirst, completely lacking the manic energy that usually attaches to his legend, stepped in front of 1-Methylcytosine (2010-11), one of the larger of the canvases, measuring in at just over 15-by-14 feet with six-inch spots, and crossed his arms. Known for making funny faces at the camera, this time around he held himself in check, and posed with a serious gaze. After a minute, he took off his hat and turned to offer a profile view. Finally, he went to the next painting over, a smaller canvas with large dots, gave a couple little waves and then asked, “Is that enough?”
It was. The journalists dutifully picked up fat press folders on their way out, each containing a packet of images detailing all 300-some spot paintings. No price list is included, of course -- but prints can be had for $4,000 or less, and the auction record for a spot painting is $3.48 million, sold in London in 2008 six months before the crash.
So, 25 years later, is Hirst bored by the spots? It would be understandable. Nevertheless, he recently announced that he has set his assistants to work on creating the biggest spot painting yet -- one million spots in all, a work that he estimates should take over nine years to complete. Life is never dull when everything’s coming up millions.