Contemporary artist Damien Hirst is no stranger to provocative art. He’s displayed dead animals, some preserved in formaldehyde (such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”) and others left out to rot. He made a platinum cast of a human skull, and encrusted it with 8,601 diamonds—the piece cost $23.6 million to create (“For the Love of God”). Now, Hirst is striking new controversy with artworks that seem pretty innocuous in comparison: paintings of polka dots.
These paintings are taking the art world by storm, literally: he’s showing 331 “spot” paintings in Larry Gagosian’s 11 galleries, which span 8 cities on 3 continents. And pretty much every art critic has something to say about it.
Basically, the critiques boil down to some pretty big questions: is this art or a publicity stunt? Is it fueled by talent or by money? Are the works original or factory-made drivel (almost all of them were produced by Hirst’s studio assistants)? Interestingly, many critics show concern for posterity. Because of this huge (superficial, self-involved) show, what if future art historians look back and think Damian Hirst was actually a significant artist? The horror!
Like it or not (and here’s a good example of not having to like every work of art), Hirst’s spot paintings probably are significant, at least for the moment. Not for the number of galleries filled or amount of money indulged, but for how many people have freaking been talking about it. And personally, while I don’t think the paintings are artistically interesting on their own, I do think this is an interesting artistic moment that leads us to question what makes art good and history-worthy and what role money and fame play in the art world. If we’re lucky, hopefully we’ll actually get some good art out of it all.
Read what some of the critics are saying: