Tag Archives: Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst as (Outer) Space Painter

Damien Hirst: Colour Space Paintings, Gagosian Gallery, 24th Street; through June 30, 2018

At this stage of the game for Hirst, when hype has become both draw and a distraction vis-a-vis his art activity, he has been attempting to re-presented himself as a seemingly un-ironic, authentic (for lack of better term) abstract painter.  I’ll say, unexpectedly, that consolidated foray into pointillist non-objectivity on display here rises to the company of postwar predecessors like Richard Pousette–Dart, Larry Poons, Veja Celmins, and, especially, Yayoi Kusama, in terms of visceral optical power–specifically Kusama’s simultaneous vision of the endless universe and the buzz behind our eyes.

Hirst himself has linked the featured works, mainly from 2016-2017, to his long-standing interest in pseudo-scientific content via images of cells under a microscope.  He first produced “spot” paintings in the 1980s in the context of post-Minimalism, which segued, reciprocally, into candy-colored tablets of big pharma.  The circle forms were typically arranged in grids or bounded patterns, sometimes shifting within the compositional structure through color arrangement.  In the best works here, the spots, in a staggering diversity of tinted hues, are densely applied in all-over fields with an uncanny stroke that seems mechanical in regularity and hand-hewn with occasional delicately trailed paint threads.  Depending on light or dark grounds, they can  intimate staring into the daylight sun or night star gazing, rendering the exhibition title a double-entendre.

As a bonus, if seeming non-sequitur, a sliced shark piece from his break-through days (1990s) as art infant terrible is installed in an anteroom before the street-front gallery window. Perhaps a reminder of the shark-infested blue-chip art sea in which he swims, but also, of the preeminent theme of death that has haunted his oeuvre.  In that sense, to borrow a metaphor from Kusama on her own practice, the new paintings can suggest the obliterative nature of infinity.

Damian Hirst, installation of paintings at Gagosian 24th St. (May 2018)


Damien Hirst, sculptural installation, c. mid-1990s, at Gagosian 24th St., May 2018

Zootropia: Recent Shows

“Ester Curini: Endangered”; through April 1 at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, 37 West 57th Street

“Animal Intent,” curated by Emily Falvey; through March 18 at Apex Art, 291 Church Street (Tribeca)

If you were feeling the animal magnetism of Sean Landers, Walton Ford and Dürer (yes) last month in Naturalia at Paul Kasmin, or are partial to furry-feathery-hoofed-slivering friends generally, two follow-ups:

Ester Curini’s wolf paintings take on the (relative) artistic sheep’s clothing of Photorealism, as close translations of Sierra Club-wildlife photography.  The substantial rub is in the blown-up scale and white-out of settings, so that each in confronts viewers as both fleeting chimeras and frozen icons.  Curini’s empathy with the creatures portrayed, borne of direct interaction with rescues at a conservation center, scene of the source photos for most of the paintings, is conveyed in the reciprocal gaze and perceived emotion she establishes between subjects and viewers after an initial, mutually defensive rapprochement.

Ester Curini, “I am the Lobo,” 2016 (72×48 in.; www.bernarduccimeisel.com).

If Curini posits a human artist/model relationship in her face-off, planar perspectives that subtly undercuts anthropocentrism, the artists in Animal Intent do so by enlisting animals as collaborators.  (I mean, literal appropriation seems the greatest form of flattery–its more subversive implications notwithstanding.)

An example:  Alison Reiko Loader and Christopher Plenzich present a stereoscopic-like, time-lapse video (viewed on a wall-mounted ipad) of developing caterpillar larvae, accompanied by charcoal drawings created by the “adults.”  Perhaps part “chimps with paintbrushes,”  the controlled and extended nature of the project is much more provocative (you’ll see).  Others immediately memorable: honeycomb-adorned, found tchockes by Aganetha Dyck, with help from a bee hive; an unlikely snake and mouse camaraderie captured in elegant photos by Nina Katchadourian; and, especially fascinating, lacquered and faux-gilded (in one case) spider webs by Michael Anthony Simon.

Michael Anthony Simon, “Faux/Real” (2017), at Apex Art.

Perhaps most prevalent in postwar cutting edge art when it comes to animals is taxidermy; from Joseph Beuys’s hares to Robert Rauschenberg’s combines, to Annette Messager’s pscyhe-scape installations,  to Damien Hirst’s pork bellies and dead insects, to Yinka Shonibare’s beast-head mannequins, to Maurizio Cattelan’s faux-perched pigeons.  In these the critter stiffs are re-purposed as reified metaphors and coalesced raw materials (not to mention, in a few of Hirst’s cases, killed in the making of art).  In a similar but shifting vein,  Matthew Barney, Jane Alexander, and Nandipha Mtambo have moved to diverse interspecies explorations, not coincident with a rising wave of interdisciplinary research and conjecture on the vicissitudes and very likely false “truths” of human primacy and difference.  This is ground zero for the artists of “Animal Intent” (along with relatively recent insect-assisted work by Pierre Huyghe and Dieter Roth), specifically in liminal terms of creativity.

The take-way from this discourse (including these two shows): don’t be too quick to dismiss expression–including artistic–by animals, or the trope of animals in art, despite its long history.   Of course,  we do not yet know whether animals are truly self-conscious constructors, never mind willing participants, in what we can reasonably call art, even if they have “emitted” or contributed to it.

*Excluding exclusively “taxidermic artists.” (Yes.)

Plants, Plates, Planets, Patterns in Chelsea

 Naturalia, Paul Kasmin, 593 10th Avenue, through March 4.

Julian Schnabel: New Plate Paintings, Pace, 510 West 25th Street,  through March 25.

Vija Celmins, Matthew Marks, 522 West 22nd Street, through April 15.

Yinka Shonibare MBE: Prejudice at Home: A Parlour, A Library, and a Room, James Cohan, 544 West 26th Street, through March 18.


Naturalia at Kasmin (guest-curated by  British author/artiste Danny Moynihan) is a sublime gathering of thematically related material spanning several centuries, from intricately delicate Renaissance illustrations—not least a Durer—to refined 17th-century Dutch still lifes—not least samples from the Bruegel clan—to out-sized post-millennial sensations like Damien Hirst’s densely plastered dead flies “painting” and rough-hewn sculptural killer ants crawling off the ceiling by Rafael Gomezbarros.  Dutch pronkstilleven, with its integration of memento mori morality and careful specimen study, appears a trigger for a those contemporary works mentioned and others, including bizarrely brilliant Roxy Paine wall work in which e-D trompe l’oeil fungi sprout out of a musty, threadbare Turkish-type carpet.  Topping off the wide range of mediums throughout is a “virtual reality” piece by Michael Joo and Gary Hustwit (you don a goggle thing) in which animals move in and out of (your) otherwise white space .  And three semi-surrealist figurative artists closely associated with fauna, Walton Ford, Sean Landers, and Alexis Rockman, are well served in the time-lapse, steam-punkish, curiosity-cabinet juxtapositions here.  (For more zootropia, see follow-up post).

More plants in new work by Julian Schnabel, whose road to fame was paved with broken plates—from the moment they appeared affixed to the grounds of monumental-scale, expressionistic figurative paintings c. 1979, providing “heroic” bravura and Mediterranean pedigree.  Although he branched off quite a bit in the ensuing, highly prolific two decades before turning decidedly to filmmaking, this early artistic m.o. was never quite surmounted, critically.  Not that he necessarily hit a painterly dead end but, well, the filmmaking (as mentioned), although not without intermittent, somewhat lower-key exhibitions of his continuing art essais.

Here the cracked ceramic underlay props up Monet-like,  dense greenery and rosey floral images to suggest an authentic, if somewhat neat (conceptually), return to the painting arena.  And like Monet’s serial explorations, the difference of each from the others unfolds gradually, with mounting interest. (The actual immediate inspiration was by Van Gogh, via his grave site.)  They are toughly gorgeous, with lovelier and more darkly tangled versions. 


Celmins has long been known for super-detailed, black and white, water and night sky drawings, cropped in ways that dismantle an earthbound position and employ repetitions elements to suggest total abstraction.  Some four decades later, much of the recent work here is a continuum.  The sky subject especially is taken to impressive Photo-realist heights in glassy-smooth paintings that evoke at once hi-rez outer space satellite images and monochromatic Larry Poons re-dos.  There are also “negative” versions—that is, seeming photo or Photoshop grisalle reversals—i.e.,  charcoal and umber star-specs on white and cream fields.  Interspersed with 2-D work are trompe l’oeil sculptural objects that carry the aesthetic implications of mimesis to conclusion by juxtaposing them with the real things.  Viewers will be hard-pressed and press hard to differentiate, falling prey to Celmins’s microscopic magic.


Shonibare’s decades-long artistic exploration of Dutch wax fabrics, which carry built in content alluding to slavery/colonial-era intersections between Europe, Indonesia, and African in this artist’s hands, is still yielding ingenious, engaging, visual and conceptual results.  Of three recent works in this show, the tour de force is a room-scale library in which all of the shelved books have been covered with variations of the syncretistic, brightly-patterned fabric, originating via Indonesian batik and marketed and developed (first by Europeans, and then Africans) as a pan-African modern textile type; each spine bears an author’s’ name.  The famous and not-so-famous authors included are a combination of foreign transplants to Britain and xenophobic British natives, alluding to the contribution of immigrants to British culture, current debates on immigration, and the global refugee crises broadly.  Ipads are provided (at a table) to research the names and add personal stories.