Los Angeles

“Out, damn’d spot!”: Damien Hirst’s latest strike

Damien Hirst, "Isonicotinic Acid Ethyl Ester," 2010–11. Household gloss on canvas, 99 x 147 inches. Image courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

When Lady Macbeth said “Out, damn’d spot!” she was referring to stains of blood, not brightly-colored enamel paint, but I’m sure there are more than a few art critics out there who echo her thought this month. The reason? What to make of “Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011”, now on view at eleven Gagosian galleries worldwide.

The spots at Gagosian LA range from the size of a ladybug to the size of a car door, and the canvases stay proportional, meaning that huge spots live on huge canvases, and vice versa.  The enamel colors are glossy and bright and yet flat, to such an extent that at the opening, I had several conversations that followed the ‘why spend your time laboring over what a computer can do’ track.

Damien Hirst, "Cefaclor," 2009. Household gloss on canvas, 21 1/8 x 16 3/8 inches. Image courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

Perhaps the most unique perspective came from an art consultant, who professed his love for one painting in particular—a smaller piece in the second room that had actually been painted by Hirst (Hirst turned the labor of painting the spots over to his assistants in 1993). The spots on this canvas are slightly less uniform, the paint just a bit more uneven, and I swear you can see holes where the point of the compass bit in.

Over 300 paintings – about a quarter of the entire series – will hang from Gagosian walls in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Hong Kong for the next thirty-or-so days. Those who plan to visit all the galleries can register for “The Complete Spot Challenge”. Present yourself and your photo ID at all eleven Gagosians while the paintings are still up, and receive a limited-edition spot print, “dedicated personally to you.” One nice touch: the print has not yet been created, so it really will be personalized for the winner.  One winner equals one print.  Ten winners equals ten prints.

Damien Hirst, "Betulin," 2005. Household gloss on canvas, 72 x 72 inches. Image courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

There are also two unmentioned challenges here. First, find something new to say about a series of repeated dots, and then, second, pick a side. The reviews vary, from “passé” to something along the lines of ‘enjoyable after you’ve moved past your initial reluctance’. To side with Hirst and Gagosian means you are pro-spectacle and (perhaps) dragging out the dying gasp of an over-inflated, lumbering beast of an art market. The other side is best represented by Christopher Knight at the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that it’s picture of the “new world order — abstract, interchangeable portraits of post-millennial trade.” The viewpoint I like best, however, comes from Blake Gopnik, at The Daily Beast, who insists that the eleven-gallery exhibition is actually the largest painting ever made, spread out across the globe like, well, a series of spots across a canvas.

Do with that what you will.