Thursday, 5 July 2012

Damien Hirst at Whitecube, Bermondsey

Two Parrots with Grotesque Baby
I didn't expect to be impressed. I had read some bad reviews, not least Jonathan Jones in the Guardian
I went primarily to see the gallery, which I hadn't found time to visit previously.

The gallery is great. And for me, so are the Hirst paintings.

The exhibition is entitled Two Weeks one Summer, which I took to mean that these images had all been produced over that collapsed period. There is a uniformity to the images, all based on the same idea, that supports this impression.

Hirst isn't as good as Carravagio or Michaelangelo. But he is as good as Hockney, on this evidence. And probably as good as Picasso when he opened in New York in 1911.

Hockney painted trees and filled the Royal Academy. Hirst has painted parrots, tumblers, flowers, scissors, jaws, butterflies and jars containing foetuses. They're arranged slightly differently in each painting. He has  placed them  in a geometric space that gives the picture a sense of space and finally he has decorated each picture with spots, which gives the images a signature feel.

You can get the idea from Two Parrots with Grotesque Baby (the baby's in the jar).

I love it. It's the spots on the surface, in  particular, that give these images depth. Like looking through a curtain.

Maybe, 200 images, all similar, is too many to appreciate all in one go. I had a similar feeling at the Hockney earlier in the year, but still appreciated the skill shown in each painting.

I don't think we should dismiss Hirst as a painter (as Jonathan Jones, and others do) just because these images are naive. If we do, we'll be doing the same as the critics did to Picasso when Stieglitz first showed his early cubist paintings in New York in 1911.

As a supplement to Hirst at the Tate, this is an exhilarating exhibition. Well worth the trek out to Bermondsey.

And the WhiteCube gallery is beautiful. Well worth a visit. Lovely spaces. Lovely Washrooms. That's right. Washrooms. For a moment I thought, wait, this could be one of the exhibits. You know, like Pharmacy, but Washroom. I hope it wasn't an artwork, given what I did next.