Damien Hirst’s Spot Paintings
© Damien Hirst/ Science Ltd, 2012
Photography Prudence Cuming Associates
The idea is simple enough: monochromatic canvases dotted with orderly rows of perfectly round, glossy-painted spots. But like Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Technicolor Marilyn prints, Damien Hirst’s spot paintings are so stark, so strange, so consistent and so instantly recognizable that they function as stand-ins for the artist himself: big, bold, graphic signatures that program our brains to think —chant with me now—“Hirst, Hirst, Hirst.” You’ve got to hand it to the guy. Warhol needed movie stars and a pantry cabinet to stir up this sort of effect on canvas. Hirst needs hardly anything at all.
On January 12, a sizable chunk of the artist’s spotted oeuvre will go on view at all 11 Gagosian Gallery outposts worldwide (three in New York, two in London and others in Beverly Hills, Hong Kong, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Rome). The show, which runs through February 18, marks the first time that mega-dealer Larry Gagosian has handed over his entire empire (50,000 square feet) to a single artist, never mind a single body of work. It’s hardly a selling exhibition, as the vast majority of the approximately 300 paintings included are on loan from various private collections and museums. And, like many of Gagosian’s large-scale, loan-heavy exhibitions, “The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011” could have very well had a place in any museum—if only there were one big enough to house it.
The market for Hirst’s work has been quiet lately (though certainly still active—two works cleared the $1 million mark at auction in November). And with a major, possibly career-affirming Tate Modern retrospective opening in April, the artist seems to be grappling with his legacy. The spot-painting exhibit is a run-up of sorts to the Tate show and, per the gallery, was Hirst’s idea. There is something admittedly poetic about reuniting these inherently related works from their homes all over the world. They become not only stand-ins for the artist but globalization itself—and, in that regard, are far more handsome than the logo of any other international brand.