Damien Hirst An Array Of Victorian Sideshow Oddities

New White Cube Bermondsey Show ironically self-reflexive Two Weeks, One Summer – Review

At first glance, you wouldn’t know the exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey presents new works by Damien Hirst. These traditional still life paintings set against an almost uniform navy blue background could be by anyone. But, in a space as massive and prestigious as White Cube, only a true giant of the art world like Hirst could command such attention with this outdated genre.

The exhibition, titled Two Weeks, One Summer, showcases new works by the artist created in the summer of 2010, and coincides with his major retrospective at Tate Modern this summer. Drawing inspiration from previous works, which fuel the economic juggernaut that is the Damien Hirst brand, the artist produces merely new packaging for the same motifs.

The array of oddities in strange vitrines is unmistakably Hirst – birds in glass cases, strange grey foetuses in jars, unmoving butterflies populate his painted works. Juxtaposed next to natural objects like conch shells, glasses of water, cherry blossoms, and animated by tropical birds and other exotic fowl, the artist brings us a seemingly harmless colourful canvas. Combined with intermittent bleeds of colour, varied textures and brush strokes, and with a nod to his dot paintings as a grid appears superimposed on an image, these works are indeed aesthetically pleasing.

However, the subject matter is not all harmless. Hirst also brings forth his token elements of death in these images. There lurks an immanent sense of danger brought into focus by dead babies in jars, shark’s teeth, pairs of scissors. Ironically, these scissors remark on the “crafted-ness” of these paintings. According to the gallery text, they are “painted from life, by Hirst in his Devon studio” rather than produced by industrial means or by the collaborative studio we associate with his work.

Though less precisely executed than his spot paintings, there is still a confident, probing artist behind the creation of these images. These works challenge traditional still lifes in their disregard for perspective. For example a lack of base for the objects to stand on erases gravity in the image, creating a more dream-like scene; a grid overlying the image stops the viewer’s eye at the surface of the painting, prohibiting entrance into the subject behind.

What cannot be overlooked in White Cube Bermondsey is the juxtaposition of Hirst’s new show with archival videos by Bruce Nauman in the North Gallery, creating an opposing exhibition that opens up a discursive rather than commercial environment within the gallery. Here, we find black and white videos recording Nauman in his studio in the late 1960s performing various mundane and repetitive actions, using his body as the canvas, an intervention that defined a pivotal moment in visual art practice. Feeding into the expanding trend of institution as educator, White Cube certainly sets itself up to be ironically self-reflexive with this particular inclusion interrogating the role of the “white cube” exhibition space, in every effort to expand the existing gallery into a thinking space as well as a commercial venture. Words; Sharon Strom © ArtLyst 2012  Visit Exhibition

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