In the darkest hour there may be light: Works from Damien Hirst's Murderme Collection

Artvehicle 5/Review

25th November 2006 — 28th January 2007

Damien Hirst is back, curating a new show and it's all about fruit. No, not really but it's not just about death either. There are some skulls, a coffin and an electric chair but there's also a big yellow balloon and a potato. The Serpentine loves a celebrity art event and this ticks all the boxes. The private view started at 7.30 and by 7.45 it was already impossible to get in to the main building and a huge queue had formed outside. It was still possible to get into the (paying) beer tent though and we all stood around in the driveway feeling smug while the losers that turned up at 8pm formed a pathetic scrum in the street. This exhibition is a collection of art that Hirst owns, likes and wants to show, irrespective of genre or fashion. The invitation demonstrates this admirably. It is a fresh tattoo of an image by Banksy. Although this will soon be as cool as having a Purple Ronnie couplet on your neck it states 'I don't care, I like it and I want it on my arm FOREVER.'

There are a number of sub categories in this collection of favourite things. There is the iconic stuff that everyone always wanted. Bacon, Warhol, Koons and Steinbach. There's the contemporary works that he's bought. There's the stuff that he's been given for Christmas over the years by his mates. And some bits that he's showing for fun or a favour. This is a fascinating exhibition for this very reason. It is unusual to get such a mixed bag in one place presented equally, with beautiful lighting, invigilators and a hushed awe. Up close some pieces are magnificent whilst others appear weak and tawdry. This is one person's collection, and it is subjective. This is another person's review and it is also subjective.

Warhol's 'Little Electric Chair' steals the show. A sickly red/orange and black screenprint of a diminutive, execution device in an empty room. It is a small image with a very small chair, perhaps 15cm high and this matter-of-factness adds to its strength. It's not big and it's not clever. Is that why the little is in the title? Or do electric chairs come in S, M, and L? Bacon's 'A study for a figure at the base of a crucifixion' is also breath-taking. A distorted figure, displaying tortured, inhuman emotions and a mouthful of flowers, is tightly cropped on another red/orange ground. We know these pieces so well yet it is a joy to see the originals. Another familiar work is Sarah Lucas's 'Chicken Knickers' from 2000. A surprisingly small, grainy photo of a woman's torso with a raw chicken in front of her pants. Revolting and amusing it demonstrates the brutal, simple humour that she does so well. There are five pieces by Lucas in this exhibition and this is my favourite although I like her blue neon coffin too. Richard Prince's jokes screen-printed on to canvas have stood the test of time better as jokes than as artworks. I quite liked the one about a blind date. Banksy's jokes have not stood the test of time and are as crude as his technique. An embarrassing exhibition to be in for a man who asked why are so many artists are prepared to die for their art but so few prepared to learn to draw. Now he's showing with all this conceptual nonsense. Was he the bloke at the private view in a Zorro mask?

Three huge slabs of unidentifiable gory flesh sit, heavily on a bloody floor and are accompanied by a video of commuters on a tube train. This unexplained exercise in contrasts by John Isaacs is the only video in the show. Does Hirst have a 'thing' about video work? Other high points were Koon's vast, shiny balloon 'Moon (yellow)', a lifesize model of a homeless man in a grubby, red sleeping bag by Turk and Steinbach's black shelf of department store readymades: five black cooking pots and five black medicine balls. Sadly Michael Joo's 'Stripped' was disappointing in the flesh. A Zebra with the black bits pealed off appeared to be a large plastic model and plasticine. Currin's paintings of women are well executed but bland and Steven Gregory's set of skulls covered in stuff are just skulls covered in stuff.

Outside are some larger, waterproof works. Fairhust's gorilla, looking passively down on his own arm lying in the grass is still a winner. Let's hope some berk doesn't come along and tag it. Hirst buys the work he likes/loves. He wants a Nauman and he'd like a (Charles) Windsor. Maybe he'll get that tattooed on the other arm for the next show.


Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
London W2 3XA

Daily, 10am-6pm

In the darkest hour there may be light: Works from Damien Hirst's Murderme Collection —  Sarah Lucas  Chicken Knickers 2000  C-type photograph  Murderme Ltd,
            London, Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London  © 2006 Sarah Lucas

Sarah Lucas
Chicken Knickers 2000
C-type photograph
Murderme Ltd, London, Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London
© 2006 Sarah Lucas