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.