Sunday, May 15, 2011

portrait of an art gallery

There were no Parent Trap style handshakes involved but I have nonetheless made a pact with Amanda of A Noodle in A Haystack to produce one wild card post a month. Not only is it a chance to flex muscles outside of filmdom, it has the added fun of not knowing what we may come up with. Feel free to pull up a chair and join us if you like. The more the merrier.

Art is generally prized for its form. What is discussed less, but can be just as important, is the space in which the artwork is exhibited. This is always taken into account, and sometimes plays an integral part in the conception. But rarely does a piece of art have a lasting impact on the experience of the gallery itself, and by extension all formal presentations of art. Which is why I'd like to discuss my experience viewing a collection of Damien Hirst portraits at the Wallace Collection two years ago in London. While a far cry from a personal favorite no one can deny his ability to stir and incite. I experienced no less in my only personal viewing of his work.

If compiling a list of controversial artists YBA Hirst is sure to be foremost among them. In the 90s he turned the art world on its head with his the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living, a showcase featuring a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. To his further discredit in some circles due to deterioration of the original piece of 'artwork' another shark was purchased as a replacement in 2006. Some have mused that Hirst himself should be embalmed and placed on display to see how he likes the practice.

While nowhere near as controversial, his exhibition No Love Lost, Blue Paintings (October 2009-January 2010) also welcomes similar critical engagement.

When viewed without context the works themselves are rather drab, to my eye. But as they say, location, location, location.

The Wallace Collection itself is a mansion frozen in time, each room decorated in such a way that it feels as though someone left the house 100 years ago, locked the door and not a thing has been touched since.

In this showy expanse the Damien Hirst exhibition highlighted the effects of decay you cannot see in painting. Entering the two rooms displaying his artwork felt cold and desolate, devoid of any antique furniture, pomp or circumstance. Patterns of skulls, shark jaws, lizards, and ashtrays replaced a monotony of opulence. The painting that most caught my eye was Floating Skull (2006) an eerie work dominated by a blue green glowing human cranium, with the rest of the frame a black void. My mind jumped to The Swing by Fragonard, on display in another room. With these paintings in mind her pinkish flesh begins to decay, the sumptuous clothes eaten by moths as all those before are made part of the earth. Hirst himself claims the exhibition was one "deeply connected with the past."

Portraits come to life with a price paid in sudden, gruesome understanding of their underlying decomposition both in matter and material. A passage of time that art defers, but can never really escape.


  1. brb, going to there. that rococo room looks amazing!

  2. yes do! it's definitely a nifty place. have you been to the sir john soane museum yet? also an amazing space.

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