ART-Surfing: Damien Hirst

July 18, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Posted in Art Reviews, Writings | 9 Comments
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I’ve been going on a major art-surfing frenzy these few days, checking up on my old favourites from Singapore Biennale 2006: (Singaporean) Donna Ong, Brian Gothong Tan, Amanda Heng and (Worldwide) Takashi Kuribayashi, Jane Alexander and Nuha Asad amongst others. I realised I had dismissed many artworks which, after some art-surfing and reading of background informations, made me rethink their artworks. They include Yayoi Kusama (a very controversial artist), Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Bohemian Rhapsody Project which I now regretfully admit I did not watch especially since I have never heard of the Bohemian Rhapsody until now.

The particularly haunting artworks made me confused on how to interpret them at first, and I realised how little I was exposed to contemporary art all this time. Walk-The-Talk and printed/online notes really gave me a good starting point for me to interpret each artwork.

The newly “discovered” artist I’m featuring today is Damien Hirst, a very controversial and extremely rich artist whose artworks focus primarily on death and mortality. He is very famous for artworks consisting of animals or organs, whole or precisely cut up, preserved in formaldehyde. This artwork, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) struck a very queer response from me.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991)

It was a Tiger Shark, preserved and suspended in a glass/steel box containing formaldehyde. Damien Hirst was very particular about the appearance of the shark. When the poor preservation of the shark caused it to decay, the gallery gutted the shark and stretched its skin over a fiberglass mould, but he commented, “It didn’t look as frightening … You could tell it wasn’t real. It had no weight.” It was replaced by another shark.

Surely enough, one can interpret that the artwork embodies the frightening and powerful elements of death that even surpasses and consumes the shark itself. The suspension of the shark, especially with its preserved life-like features still intact, gives an impression of sub-reality. It seems alive, yet is dead. The title would at first give one the impression of a surrealistic or abstract piece, but this is purely realistic, to the extent of using a real carcass as a “ready-made”. It may look like a biological study found in a museum, but seen as an artwork, it suddenly means an entirely different thing.

This, and many other artworks sparked off many criticisms and controversial arguments. Because The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living was sold for nearly £7 million in January 2005, people are starting to question whether it was a money statement or whether it was really art. Another criticism is about the authenticity of the artworks, such as his spot paintings. The paintings were mostly painted by his assistants, but his philosophy was that the progenitor of the idea was the artist since the conception, rather than execution, is what matters to an art.

Away from the Flock (1994)

Many people opposed his series of preserved dead animals. Norman Tebbit commenting on the Sensation exhibition, wrote “Have they gone stark raving mad? The works of the ‘artist’ are lumps of dead animals. There are thousands of young artists who didn’t get a look in, presumably because their work was too attractive to sane people. Modern art experts never learn.”

The works appear gruesome, crazy and sick even, but it could be because of this very radical factor that drew the attentions of art critics and collectors alike. Personally, I feel very mixed about his artworks, especially the more controversial ones. As much as I appreciate the radical concept, I do not really see the reason behind the outrageous price tag. Also, I am slightly biased towards artworks with gothic, dead or morbid subject matters and concepts. I do not feel very comfortable when I start thinking of myself in the animals’ shoes, but do you think this is what Damien Hirst wanted his viewers to respond like?

So, do you think this is Art or Rip-Off? Please do comment. (:

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