Kicking off the run of Damien Hirst projects at Gagosian’s London space on Britannia Street, the latest iteration, Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures presents Hirst as artist and curator, presenting this deeply personal series of work through his own eyes, and exploring a diverse range of subjects and concepts that have run through the series and subjects of the artist’s career. Balanced in the middle of a perpetual confrontation between the contrasting systems of belief that define human existence, from common trust in medicine to the seduction of consumerism, Hirst’s work feels particularly timely in the midst of the ongoing challenges and trauma of Covid-19.
The show’s titular works, the Fact Paintings, present as taut meditations on image and its circulation in the modern landscape. Mimicking color photographs, they are created in oil on canvas, sometimes with meticulous fidelity, or reveling in the physicality of mark making, a contrast that brings to mind their manufactured nature, and their role in negotiating truth and fiction. The works explore the construction of a world-in three dimensions across the surface of one that exists, for all intents and purposes, in only two. Drawing on the photograph as a model and point of entry, these works disrupt the idea of images as both constructed and manufactured.
Subjects include Hirst’s signature motifs of butterflies and diamonds, depictions of his own previous works, and portraits of his friends and family. In many ways, the Fact series can be seen as the artist’s self-portrait, highlighting significant moments of Hirst’s life and career: Michael with Diamond Skull (2008), for example, portrays Michael Craig-Martin—his former tutor at Goldsmiths—posing with the famed sculpture For the Love of God (2007); in Self-Portrait as Surgeon (2007) the artist, dressed in blue scrubs, stands next to a hospital bed; while Cleaning New Baby (Cyrus) (2007) depicts his own newborn son.
By comparison, the Fact Sculptures revel in verisimilitude, often to the point of horror. Remedies Against the Great Infection (2020) offers hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, while sculptures such as Don’t Stop Me Now (2006) and Warsaw (2008), replete with medical supplies, take on new meaning within the context of the enduring pandemic. By incorporating these by-now-ubiquitous commodities into sculptures, Hirst speaks to the new landscape of material culture that has become a dark fact of contemporary life. Deliberate in their particular allusions and ideations, Hirst’s work is frank, and often confrontational, in its representation of the world.
The show closes May 24th.
– D. Creahan
Gagosian Gallery: Damien Hirst [Exhibition Site]