Damien Hirst

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living & I

Spent my final day in London at the Tate Modern for the Damien Hirst retrospective. My friend Jon managed to snap a few guerrilla shots when the guard wasn’t looking.

Modern art is always polarizing, playing a high-risk pass/fail game for its ability to confront us with truth. A heck of a lot seems to fail, but I found this collection actually quite moving.

Dissing modern art is the easiest game in town, sometimes justified in an area when at least part of the success or failure of the work is its controversy, daring and pejorative sense of ‘I bet you don’t get this’.

My favourite Damien Hirst comment comes from Karl Pilkington (via Ricky Gervais): “Is he an artist or a fishmonger?”

But after a week spent eating breakfast surrounded by huge ancient portraits in a 18th century building, it felt refreshing and alive, if a little eager.

The retrospective had selections from Hirst’s whole career, including the famous Pharmacy, a full apothecary of medicines; and the sickly Crematorium.

Unfortunately, but understandably, For the Love of God wasn’t there.

Sure, some of it grabs you, and some just feel like quite obvious commentary on modern life.

But the most powerful, work, with a very strong biblical subtext, was the famous animals in formaldehyde.

Especially ‘Mother & Child Divided‘, a truly disturbing piece of four large cases, each containing half of a mother cow and calf, speaking of the consequence of evil, brokenness and – dare I say – sin, which not only separates us from each other, but also from ourselves.

An Incomplete Truth

Continuing the biblical subtext was ‘Black Sheep‘, a companion piece to ‘Away from the Flock‘.

These pieces speak not just about the fear of death, but the isolation of a spiritless modern life.

This is followed by Judgement Day and then, interestingly, the final piece as you leave is the suspended dove, ‘An Incomplete Truth’.

That following room after room reflecting on the disturbing inner state of humanity, alongside judgement, it should end with something as spiritually iconic as a dove caught in a life motion, I found an interesting, hopeful, coda.

And with Hirst, whose signature theme is about facing up to the inevitable in our fears, this is particularly poignant statement.

And then you hit the truly inevitable merchandise, stocked with everything from Hirst books and posters, to umbrellas, deck chairs and skateboards.