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Damien Hirst with The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991, at the Tate Moderna
Damien Hirst with The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991, at the Tate Modern


Apr. 17, 2012

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Has there ever been an artist whose demise critics have more gleefully predicted than Damien Hirst’s? Maybe not, judging by the response to his current retrospective at the Tate Modern, Apr. 4-Sept. 9, 2012.

“One wants to write a straightforward review of Hirst's work, but it is almost impossible,” says Adrian Searle in the Guardian. “What would it be like, I wonder, for someone with no knowledge of his art, let alone his global reputation, to come along and review this show? What would they see? So much has already been said about Hirst, including a great deal by me. How can we see it fresh?”

Even the most open-minded attendees, he concludes, will find that the work really just gets worse in proportion to the artist’s success. “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.”

The most outspoken critic has been Julian Spalding, who released his book Con Art – Why you ought to sell your Damien Hirsts while you can days before the show’s opening, and whose BBC camera crew wasn’t allowed into the press preview. Spalding’s gripe against Hirst is the same one he has against Marcel Duchamp, Carl Andre and Tracey Emin -- it’s all “Con Art, the so-called Conceptual Art movement, is little more than a money-spinning con, rather like the emperor’s new clothes.”

Did anyone have anything nice to say? Sort of. The most common refrain has been that the young Hirst showed considerable promise -- but that now you just want to knock him off his pedestal. “There is no escaping the brilliance of Hirst’s early work and no getting away from how profoundly it transformed the world of British art,” wrote Andrew Graham-Dixon in the Telegraph, before adding a resounding but: “When you really only have one thing to say, how many times can you say it before you begin to bore everyone -- including yourself -- to death?”

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