Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not all Death and Decay: Damien Hirst Retrospective at the Tate Modern

I think the most impressive part of the Damion Hirst Exhibition is the huge statue that's been erected outside on the South Bank in front of Tate Modern. It's half-flayed to reveal musculature and organs, sharing a  link with the the bisected cow and calf inside. It reminded me of the statue in gold that was included in the RA Summer show, of the martyred saint who carries his skin like an overcoat draped over one outstretched hand. It's echoed too in some of the exhibits of medical models.

I can't get excited about  the early 'spot' paintings, although there is a visual link with the rows of coloured tablets, pill and capsules on glass shelves in rooms that focus on medical matters. I liked boxes of medicines, labelled with  exotic pharmaceutical names . It's sobering and sinister to see surgical instruments at whose purpose you can only shudder and guess. The point the artist makes - that death can only be held at bay by the application of science, not defeated by it, seems to be made in a heavy-handed fashion.

It's not all gloom and reminders of death and decay, though. There's a smaller room with slowly revolving disks splashed with glossy colour and a beach ball balanced on vented air like a perpetual seaside game. The circular forms echo the general theme of life-cycles, but these are everlasting, unlike the all-too fragile animal kind.

I liked similar disks of blue butterfly prints - maybe even real butterfly wings. There was a room specially kept humid so actual butterflies could be seen in aspects of their lifecycle, from pupae to flying around.  They seemed to suffer from torpor when I was there or maybe there weren't enough of them to be effective.

The notorious vitrines of rotting meat placed to simulate the life-cycles of flies were smelly because of the air-vents in the glass cases.  A giant ash-try gave off a suffocating odor that - deterred visitors  like myself who came too close.

Fish arranged to resemble a shoal were interesting, although to me the huge shark wasn't scary -it looked a bit like the one in the film 'Jaws' when the camera lingered on it too long. The skin was too dull and wrinkled and it looked almost as pitiful as the stuffed walrus in the Horniman Museum.

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