The Placebo Effect - Damien Hirst, Tate Modern
4 April - 9 September 2012.
The gargantuan entrance to the Turbine Hall consumes its tiny visitors like a vast basking shark beached on the banks of the Thames. This cathedric space is temporarily home to perhaps Hirsts' most controversial piece; the £50 million diamond-encrusted skull, placed alone in the smallest and darkest of rooms. The voyeurs troop past reverentially in single file, mostly in hushed devotion, to absorb the dazzling light emanating from the perfect gems, and to contemplate the forces of Death and Money. Ironically, this part of the exhibition is free of charge.
The main exhibition continues on the second floor, the entire space given over to room after room of Hirsts' 'iconic works'. It's all here - from an art-student line of brightly painted saucepans, to the earliest unpolished spot paintings, and through to the more recent flies, blood, butterflies and pills. He is an accessible bloke - we've seen him on the telly; his work doesn't need explaining.
Hirsts' attention to detail is palpable, as too is the unease with which most are viewing the work. It is hard to move forward from the tabloid-generated headlines - headlines usually reserved solely for Turner Prize nominees. And yet, to see twenty-plus years of Hirsts work all together is revelatory. It presents us with the coherant product of a remarkably lucid practice, whilst simultaneously suggesting that Hirst hasn't had any new ideas in over two decades. He has long outgrown his bad-boy YBA ststus, but has found it increasingly hard to shake off the knockers - of which there have been many. The problem is that the audience is no longer shocked by his work; we know what is coming, and accept it with a resigned shrug...death is inevitable.
'The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living' should be the ultimate show-stopper. Instead children gather round to snigger at this very ropey-looking, oddly-wrinkled shark. Above all else it illustrates how hard it must be to come by a whole shark at Billingsgate Market these days. And so we move on, past more dead things, dots, and lots of flies.
'Pharmacy' (1992), is a seemingly self-explanatory installation, quite perfect in its execution. The medicines are very purposefully arranged - head remedies on the upper shelves, stomach tablets in the middle, and foot cures at the very bottom. Colourfully-filled apothecary jars and floor-to-ceiling frosted glass cabinets complete this Museum of Modern Medicine.
"Hirst's Pharmacy could be seen as a representation of the
multiple range of philosophies, theories and belief systems
available as possible means of structuring and redeeming a
life. Like medicine, however, these attempts to think a way
around death are eternally doomed to failure"
This exhibition seems doomed to failure also. It serves to reinforce the notion that Hirst is only interested in three things - death, himself, and money - all terribly un-British traits. Arguably Hirst has ceased to be an Artist at all, and like 'Posh' has become an eponymous 'Brand'.
Interestingly, Hirst has chosen to loan one of his giddy 'spin' paintings to the Leicester Square branch of Burger King for the duration of the London 2012 Olympics. 'Beautiful Psychedelic Gherkin Explodes Tomato Sauce All Over Your Face, Flame Grilled Painting' (2003) hangs at the top of the stairs, carefully placed for all those visiting the toilets to pass and appreciate...after all, he's an accessible bloke - we've seen him on the telly; his work doesn't need explaining.
The combined smell of French fries and blocked drains seem somehow fitting.