Damien Hirst: Beyond Belief

Artvehicle 19/Review

1st June 2007 — 7th July 2007

Spanning Jay Jopling's twinned Cubes, Beyond Belief provides the most complete testimony to Hirst's oeuvre yet - an array of examples from each method of his practice, culminating in what could be described as equal parts paradigmatic and guilty confessional of Hirst's ideology.

At Hoxton Square it's business as usual: animals lurk in tanks of formaldehyde, hobbled into divine poses; and waxy, lifeless realist paintings hang upstairs, this time more autobiographies than autopsies. Accompanying these is evidence of Hirst's latest disciplinary appropriation: vast screen-prints of electro-magnified diseases entitled with characteristically blunt, medical gratuity. Sprinkled over the surface of these prints are, variously, shards of glass, scalpels, razor blades, and catholic trinkets. Grand and familiar themes abound here - life, death (the fear of both), man's meddling in God's domain - but the new screen prints add little to the canon. In fact, the pieces on display predominantly describe cold reiteration, both visually and conceptually. Hirst's reappraisal of notoriously fecund periods of his artistic life continues at Mason's Yard, and is exemplified by Death Explained. The fabled shark is back, this time halved and displayed in two separate tanks so we might read its unintelligible innards for answers. Of course, like us, Hirst is none the wiser - still confounded by God's immutable benignancy - but he is certainly, willingly, concessionary.

Upstairs in the ticketed, guarded bowels of The Cube, is the divine nucleus of the exhibition. In the centre of a darkened room, on a velveteen plinth and behind glass, is a human skull cast in platinum and encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. The piece is worth £50,000,000 and, perhaps consequently, each group of visitors has a miserly two minutes with it. As I entered the room with my allotted group we voicelessly established a democratic procession around the exhibit. I stared at every bejewelled orifice, every hammered-platinum hem, every whorled, diamond lobe. Its price precedes any critical gaze passing over its coruscating surface.

It's been evident for some time that Hirst has become a juggernaut of self-generating commerce, able to plough through even the sternest of criticism on his way to economic nirvana. In the retroactive context of For the Love of God, the entire exhibition seems an overtly cynical artistic exercise. There is little attempt to sweeten the embittered financial spring that irrigates these collected pieces; it seems as if Hirst has stopped his smirking and become seriously, determinedly greedy. It seems his ultimate understanding of power as determined through money, and its cynical blossoming within an explicitly capitalist art-world, is the requisite reading of this exhibition. Hirst has flirted with this profession before, but previously tempered it with a sort of he-who-dares spirit; his success ascribed to his confidence in making bold, brash statements without regret, consultation or modesty. The pseudo-profundity laboriously expounded in his titles always felt self-consciously elaborate; he knew the fallibility in such pomposity, empathising through sleight humour. In contrast, his demonstrative titles in Beyond Belief deliver nothing but bored puns. There is something telling about his emphatic verbosity to support the pieces themselves; to prescribe the supposedly serious narrative his work seeks but cannot supply. For the Love of God epitomises this tendency. It provides plain and direct access to the conversations the piece might offer - crude religiosity, greed, a cynical appropriation of the public's inevitable reaction, and an erroneous reliance on puns to provide theoretical heft. Any other complexity that might be explored through actual contact with the piece - such as the astonishing performance surrounding it - is annulled, leading you interminably to the sardonic wealth at its foundation.

Hirst's direct antecedent for this spectacle is the ancient Aztec skull covered in a mosaic of emerald shards in The British Museum. Strikingly, the principle difference between this relic (along with other religious artefacts, particularly catholic reliquaries) and Hirst's piece, is in imaginative aspiration. The edict of the Aztec skull is one of transcendentalism - a description of desire at the expense of material value. Conversely, Hirst's skull expresses a process of capitalist profit motivation and conditional 'faith' in the free market. Which, of course, could be a worthy antagonist to the spiritual alternative - not to mention a confessional for the state of the arts - if it were not for the fact that these asides are utterly supplanted by the conceptual supremacy of money. Self-reflexivity and symptomatic humility are sacrificed, martyred, with frightening efficiency for acquiescence to money. The success of the centrepiece is assured, and its statement, however cynical, creates its own truth. As with each of the other pieces in this exhibition, there is a hermetic, self-perpetuating logic in For the Love of God that represents infallibility - Hirst's commercial deification - at the tragic expense of genuinely progressive dialogue.


White Cube - Mason's Yard
25-26 Mason's Yard
London SW1Y 6B

Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-6pm

Damien Hirst: Beyond Belief —  Damien Hirst For the Love of God 2007 Platinum, diamonds and human teeth 6 3/4 x 5 x 7 1/2 in. (17.1 x 12.7 x 19.1 cm) (c) the artist Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd Courtesy Science Ltd and Jay Jopling/ White Cube (London)

Damien Hirst
For the Love of God
Platinum, diamonds and human teeth
6 3/4 x 5 x 7 1/2 in. (17.1 x 12.7 x 19.1 cm)
(c) the artist
Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd
Courtesy Science Ltd and Jay Jopling/ White Cube (London)