Damien Hirst Has the World Seeing Spots


Gagosian’s worldwide empire launches its much hyped, globe-spanning exhibition “Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011” tomorrow at all 11 Gagosian venues. Since the series is ongoing, even this comprehensively titled show does not achieve completion. At auction, these paintings have netted amounts ranging from the high six digits into the millions of dollars. The shows will remain open mostly through Feb. 18, with some earlier and later closings.

At a press preview Wednesday morning at the gallery’s 21st Street location, publicity agents warned that there would be none of the customary coffee and no interviews—just spots. “Not exactly the most convivial atmosphere,” muttered a journalist in attendance. As cameras and iPhones clicked and whirred, Hirst, in a T-shirt, jeans and white sport coat and topped with an orange Carhartt knit cap, posed in front of his canvases, crossing his arms to reveal multiple chunky rings. Words like “baller” and “bling” circulated through the crowd.

Hirst has dared fellow ballers to join him in his global conquest. With “The Complete Spot Challenge,” he has offered a prize, Willy Wonka style, to those who visit all 11 galleries worldwide—New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Geneva and Hong Kong. Confirm that you’ve visited all venues and he’ll sign a spot print dedicated to you personally.

Published reports have indicated that one third to about half of the 300 paintings on view are for sale, with the rest on loan from some 150 public institutions and private collectors, including the artist. The catalogue includes essays by MoMA curator Ann Temkin, cultural critic Michael Bracewell and art historian Robert Pincus-Witten, along with a conversation between Hirst, Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari.

If things weren’t spotty enough for you, designer Cynthia Rowley (partner to Bill Powers of Bravo “Work of Art” fame) has collaborated with artist Olaf Breuning to create a dress inspired by the spot paintings. Breuning’s 2011 Metro Pictures show “The Art Freaks,” which depicted nudes painted to look like artworks, included a polka-dotted nude, after Hirst. The dress will feature the faint image of a naked woman, superimposed with brushy dots. You can pick one up for $550 at the Parisian boutique Colette during the show’s run.

Naturally, the show has elicited a flurry of press coverage ever since it was announced. New York magazine devotes four pages in its current issue to a biographical outline, and press outlets internationally have been breathless in anticipation. But not everyone has been so fawning. Blogger Will Brand, at artfagcity, came down heavily against the show, addressing a Jan. 4 post (“Hirsts Spotted at Gagosian”) to future art historians who might think this extravaganza had the whole art world’s imprimatur:

“I’m going to lay this down, just to clarify, so that nobody from the future gets confused: we hate this shit. Everyone hates this shit. These spots reflect nothing about how we live, see, or think, they’re just some weird meme for the impossibly rich that nobody knows how to stop.”

Yet the corporate Hirst juggernaut rolls on. A Hirst retrospective is upcoming at London’s Tate Modern [Apr. 4–Sept. 9].