Thursday, 20 September 2007



(First published 7th March 2007)

Concurrent shows by Hirst at Gagosian, London and Beverly Hills offer attractive, large-scale collages of butterflies on black grounds in intricate symmetry. They take up religious and presentational themes established in previous work; continue the artist’s penchant for killing animals in elaborate commission.

Hirst’s work belongs to a recent phase of Conceptual Art, whereby the work not only displays or samples the products of industry, science or other institutions through ready-made materials of especial bulk or number (as in a David Mach, or Nancy Rubins for instance), but through the commissioned or customised product. Such works often have the feel of a prototype or mock-up. The shift is from the ready-made to the readily-made – to works that not only stress the remoteness of the artist’s role, as a designer or ideas person, but of the standards and efficiency of the process engaged. The readily-made is thus about the artist’s commissioning power (often requiring prestigious materials, location and co-operation) and about unusual or telling applications for set process. This is usually only obliquely recognised by critics, see for example the review of Hirst by Thomas Crow in Art Forum (Dec 2006, pp 274-5) the closing paragraph in particular registering Hirst’s formidable entrepreneurial input.

The readily-made emerges in the work of Jeff Koons from the mid 80s with his stainless steel castings of toys, telling us much about standards of casting, standing of toys and sculpture, status and budget of Koons and associates. The readily-made is elsewhere exploited by Charles Ray, Wim Delvoye, Gabriel Orozco, Tobias Rehberger, Andrea Zittel and Janine Antoni, amongst others. Hirst’s contribution firstly and famously displays preserved, sometimes dissected, animals in tanks of formaldehyde, much as specimens in a science exhibit, but given embarrassing titles such as The Physical Impossibility of Death in The Mind of Someone Living (1991). It sounds like a line out of a Bill and Ted movie, (perhaps with “Guv” substituted for “Dude” at some point) alerts the viewer to a more informal discourse.

Actually it is not so much the animals’ death but their preservation and containment that now figure foremost by the display. It is the means of study, that isolates and literally distances the specimen from life, that now stand revealed. So death, more particularly, is seen here in terms of classification and science. But death on these terms is also a demonstration of the reach of Hirst’s readily-mades, a measure of their authority and remoteness. And it gives his work an uneasy ruthlessness, an ambition and cost that rivals or outweighs insight into science or study. Hirst extends the ‘readily-made’ here but only to fall into unwelcome self-promotion, is variously censured as brattish, brutish or British.

In other readily-mades, Hirst samples classification and containment through cabinet displays of pharmaceuticals, surgical instruments and graphics based on pharmaceutical labels. Containers and classes now exhibit novel, overlooked qualities – the tastes and feel of medicine and method. Hirst extends free-standing readily-mades to environments or installations and even to painting, with paint poured upon rotating disks (‘Spins’) and arrangements of circular colour swatches (‘Spots’) and more recently, photo-realist works. But of course, painting does not lend itself to demonstrations of manufacture very much, does not notably extend the artist’s reach, reveal interesting qualities about painting (or photographs) by automation or delegation. Readily-made paintings by Hirst (or Koons) are consequently disappointing.

The readily-made does not always apply profitably or properly. A recent work such as New Religion… (2005) shifts the focus from science to religion, from method to ritual, but loses some of the grasp and reach of the readily-made by it. The arrangement of altar and crucifix are not enough by Hirst’s own deadly standards, order or contain too little, too easily. Similarly, the imposing sculpture Hymn (2000), while greatly enlarging a child’s model of anatomy, much like a Koons, settles for painted bronze, lacks the daring application of stainless steel, porcelain or even flower-beds, variously exploited by Koons.

Hirst’s current works such as The Explosive Exalted (2006) or Aubade, Crown of Glory (2006) arrange butterflies along the lines of stained-glass windows; cleverly draw Christian iconography into another taxonomy and display, but again, lack the church and congregation of a more extensive readily-made, a more ambitious conception. Butterflies or their wings have been applied to pictures before, in Hirst’s own work, in Dubuffet’s collages from the 50s, so are not especially stretched by the encounter with symmetrical designs or circular framing, for the stained glass reduced and removed to a secular framing. Hirst increasingly finds the readily-made imposes rising standards, a rigour not readily met or sustained.

1 comment:

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