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Sunday Read: Marina Warner and Hari Kunzru Contemplate Damien Hirst’s Retrospective

 
IndigoFor the Love of GodBritish novelist Marina Warner, best-known for her rendition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the novel Indigo, has written a piece for the latest issue of the London Review of Books in which she considers Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition, a retrospective currently showing at the Tate Modern.

According to Warner, the exhibition, which features such iconic pieces as The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and In and Out of Love, is governed by an “afterwardness of experience” – the works lose value as they are removed from their original space, time and place.

In 1991 the art critic Louisa Buck rang me up – she was my sister-in-law and in those days we didn’t text – and said I really should go along to Bond Street and see the butterflies hatching in some disused premises that the artist Damien Hirst had rented. ‘It’s a truly beautiful installation,’ she enthused. She described it: the dishes of melting nectar, the chrysalises stuck to the walls, and the startling epiphanies as the creatures unfurled, fluttered – tropical, iridescent, huge, ineffable. I didn’t get there in the end, but not because I didn’t want to. Now the piece has been reconstructed in Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern, and for many reasons I wish I had seen the original version of In and Out of Love. It mattered then and it matters now that Hirst rented the space, a former travel agency, so that he could install his vision of natural beauty and the life cycle, there, in the heartland of platinum-plated consumerism and high fashion. Like one of the gorgeous brindled or turquoise insect mimics he hatched, he was taking colour from his surroundings and showing he could make exquisite artefacts, delicately skilful, each one unique, precious, rare: he could show how supremely wonderful a real creature is, more so than anything at Asprey or Prada or Cartier.

Gods without MenThe Map and the TerritoryIn a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, Hari Kunzru wrote about Damien Hirst by alluding to Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory which opens with the description of a painting titled Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market. According to Kunzru, Hirst’s success lies, not in the quality of his art, but in the fact that he has “almost single-handedly remade the global art market in his image”:

The Map and the Territory, the latest novel by the mordant French satirist Michel Houellebecq, opens with a description of a painting titled Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market. Koons is portrayed throwing his arms wide. Hirst is slumped on a white leather sofa, drinking a beer. For Houllebecq’s fictional artist, “Hirst was basically easy to capture: you could make him brutal, cynical in an ‘I shit on you from the top of my pile of cash’ kind of way; you could also make him a rebel artist (but rich all the same) pursuing an anguished work on death; finally, there was in his face, something ruddy and heavy, typically English, which made him look like a rank-and-file Arsenal supporter.”

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Photo courtesy Yatzer

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://slgrey.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">S.L. Grey</a>
    S.L. Grey
    July 2nd, 2012 @09:46 #
     
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    Hang on a mo.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    July 2nd, 2012 @09:50 #
     
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    Thanks.

    I saw Hirst and a BBC interviewer on TV strolling through the retrospective chatting amicably and sensibly about the pieces. I liked Hirst's unironic and unpuffy and unarsey comments on what the pieces meant to him and why he made them, and it all made me think better of him. If someone happens to be testing a teleporter between Joburg and the South Bank, please let me know.

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  • <a href="http://imago.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sophy</a>
    Sophy
    July 2nd, 2012 @11:32 #
     
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    Well, whaddya know, Louis, I am in the business of testing a teleporter and looking for a guinea pig. It uses strands of live wire, linked to sheets of foil for extra conductivity and a couple of Swarovski crystals (purely decorative). Wanna give it a go?

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  • <a href="http://imago.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sophy</a>
    Sophy
    July 2nd, 2012 @11:34 #
     
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    In other news, Hirst has a 66ft statue of a pregnant woman planned for Devon: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/9369419/Damien-Hirsts-giant-pregnant-woman-to-hit-Ilfracombe.html

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    July 2nd, 2012 @11:38 #
     
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    Sophy! You biscuit! I have not cut my hair for some time and might pass for a guinea pig. Where do I sign the waiver?

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  • <a href="http://imago.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sophy</a>
    Sophy
    July 2nd, 2012 @16:20 #
     
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    I require an upfront payment of 1 mil Nairas

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