Hirst’s work has always been epic in emotion and physicality – and at times we find ourselves looking at them as if looking at a Caravaggio painting or a Michelangelo drawing. So we were looking forward to getting to the Tate Modern in London to see the retrospective of Damian Hirst’s art – this was a chance to see so many of his works together in one space.
The first room starts with Hirst’s early works which are naive and easily forgotten, although one can still see his struggle for minimalism, but the need to explore the world of life and death or more accurately our existence.
Taking center stage in the next room in all the drama of Michelangelo’s David is the piece from 1991 entitled: A Thousand Years. Here flies in mass are housed in a large glass home and within that a smaller box where their maggots hatch. On the floor lies their food, the head of a freshly killed cow. From above hangs their death, an insect-o-cutor, into which they are drawn and die, this process holds us with morbid fascination. The dead bodies of the flies pile up on the floor, next to the very thing that feeds there existence – the puddle of blood from the cows head as it oozes across the floor, an end to the cycle of life.
This is truly a profoundly baroque work.
Next door is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is an iconic Hirst work – the scale of this creature suspended in blue liquid facing you head on evokes primal fear. Hirst has said he wanted it so that ‘..you feel you’re in there with it, feel it could eat you….’. And it does – again he evokes basic feelings like death and mortality which are common in his work.
You wander through this exhibition being challenged continually in different ways until you emerge into the final room and in front of you is The Incomplete Truth, a perfect white dove in flight suspended in blue formaldehyde. After the fear of death and life, the dove arises like a messenger of hope and a symbol of peace.
Damien Hirst is a master of reminding us about the basic process of life, like Renaissance artists did in painting. He has earned his role in the group of Young British Artists and is responsible for the trend in contemporary art of artists as celebrities. And when you see his work altogether like this, expertly curated Ann Gallagher, you understand why.