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Damien Hirst's first major retrospective opens in Britain

posted 2 Apr 2012, 13:58 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 2 Apr 2012, 13:59 ]

British artist Damien Hirst's first major retrospective opens at Tate Modern, with items on display including the famous spotted paintings and the shark installation.

The "pickled" shark, a mother cow and her calf cut in half, these are only two of some seventy works that have come together for the first major display of the 25-year-long career of British artist Damien Hirst.
The artist has long avoided a retrospective, deeming it "more OAP" (old age pensioner) than YBA (Young British Artists) and worrying that his life's work would "amount to nothing" once it went on display.

But Hirst finally accepted the idea and the exhibition is one of the highlights of the Cultural Olympiad which is based around this summer's Olympic Games in London.

A Turner Prize winner, Hirst is known for being the leading figure in the influential YBA movement.

The show itself focuses on some of Hirst's most important early works with a view to putting his later series into context.

Visitors will be familiar with installations such as the cabinets filled with medicine and his "spin" and butterfly paintings. New to many will be "In and Out of Love", a room in which butterflies hatch, live and die as the public passes through.

Also on display are glass vitrines hosting maggots that develop into flies, and feed on the severed head of a cow as well as cigarette butts in a giant ash-tray "Crematorium".

Towards the end of the exhibition viewers reach a gold wallpapered room dedicated to Hirst's record-breaking auction at Sotheby's in 2008 where he raised 111 million pounds ($177 million) from over 200 new works.

Called "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever", it was a groundbreaking event, conceived as a single work of art that bypassed the dealers -- and their hefty fees -- altogether.

Championed early on by collector Charles Saatchi, Bristol-born Hirst has come to embody the spirit of 1990s London where his works, often given intriguing titles, appealed to hedge fund managers and oligarchs as well as an art world clamoring for new ideas.

The staggering sums that some of his works achieve have also lead to some accusing Hirst that the main drive behind his work now is to make money.

Hirst disagrees, but he does think money does help his cause in different way.

"You know I think money is an important key in the factor you know but I think, I use anything to get people's attention, and I think that money is something that does that as well. You know I think, I've learnt you have to respect money, cause it's you know, it's a big thing, and there's a lot of people who don't have it. But what I get is people say you know 'Your work is only about money' or 'your work is only about getting attention' and -- they're basically saying there's nothing beneath that you know what I mean," he said.

Julian Spalding, a curator and critic who has just written a short book called "Con Art - Why you ought to sell your Damien Hirsts while you can", for instance has described Hirst's works, as "worthless financially" and encouraged people to sell it whilst they can.

Hirst's spot paintings, for example, are made by employees and untouched by the artist, a fact that did not prevent them becoming status symbols for the rich and famous.

This fact has recently caused fellow contemporary, David Hockney, who runs a parallel exhibition to Hirst's at the Royal Academy, to include a note on his posters reading: "All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally."

Hirst himself, however, doesn't seem too fussed at these kinds of jibes directed at him.

"You know it seems to me to be, it really amazes me that that kind of thing comes to today. It's like, there's no way I could have created the things", he counters.

"I mean you try and make art as a reflection of the world that you live in. And in the world that we live in, everything we are involved with is made by other people so I don't see how you can make a comment about the world that you live in. I mean you know you have to go into the woods and paint. There's no way you can like sit. You know I mean I always remember people sort of say to me 'Your work is a factory', like it's a negative thing and you just think: 'Factories make amazing things. They don't just make dog food, you know, they make Ferrari's.'"

Disregarding his own personal involvement in the physical creation process, Hirst says his main motivation for his art is to trigger a thinking process in people.

"I think you don't have to please people but I think you do have to get their attention", he said. "I mean I always think you know the saddest thing in an artwork is if you walk past it. You know it's like you walk past it and then people go 'Did you see that?' and you're 'What?' and you have to -- send them back wheareas I always think, I think it's a great achievement if somebody looks at one of your things, they're thinking about it an hour later. If you can get it to the point where it's a day later, or a week later, then that's genius."

In order to achieve this, Hirst says he tries to put personal interests aside and concentrates on popular themes.

"I'm not looking for things that are personal to me, I am looking for universal triggers. I wanna try and touch everybody in a one on one basis. So I think you know if I say you know, everybody loves butterflies so it's like I'm looking for things like that. Not my personal loves you know. I mean I like quirky things you know, so I don't wanna put in something that I loose everybody. I want everybody to just connect," he said.

"Damien Hirst" runs from April 4 to September 9 and is sponsored by the Qatar Museums Authority. Admission is 14 pounds.