Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Spot on, spot off

February 5, 2012 - 4:55pm -- Carol Diehl

Out, damned spot! – Lady Macbeth

I was walking along 24th Street in the bitter wind, wondering if it was necessary to write any more about Damien Hirst’s blasted spots, and if I really needed to see even one of the shows. But there I was at Gagosian’s door, and it seemed silly not to go in, so I did and….a terrible thing happened. Are you ready? I’m about to admit something that could ruin my credibility forever: I liked them. Okay, to be completely candid, I didn’t just like them, I loved them. Especially the humungous gallery with the big, big spots and the smaller room with the paintings where the spots are formed into vibrating circles. The color, movement, and exuberance reminded me of Matisse and made me want to dance (by now you’re wondering, what is she taking, and where can I get some?). It was such a relief to have an experience of art that wasn’t complicated by a lot of tacked-on personal or intellectual bullshit, but was simply happy. Especially since I’d just come from the Bill Jensen painting show at Cheim & Read, which was over-the-top depressing. The mantra in the art world seems to be “if you can’t make it good, make it grim.” And I thought how, in the current context, the most radical thing an artist can do is create art that causes to people feel good, that makes them, as Tolstoy said, “love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.“ The art world seems to equate happy with sappy. And there’s a reason for this – happy art is extremely hard to make, which is why hardly anyone even attempts it. But here it was, in the Gagosian gallery of all places, suddenly transformed into  a joyous, celebratory oasis in the middle of cold, heartless Chelsea.

The next day I visited the Madison Avenue permutation. To get there I had to walk past a shop selling Hirst "spot" effluvia, whose giant windows looking onto the street revealed a lone, rather dazed-looking customer. It reminded me of those stores that used to be ubiquitous on Madison and in SoHo (do they still exist?) that specialized in knock-off Dali, Chagall, Miro, and Picasso prints. And upstairs, well, it was a total bore. I trudged from room to room and floor to floor, marveling at the ridiculousness of the over-abundance of guards, until I realized that this was one of those situations that could cause someone not to want to steal the things, God knows, but I could see how, in that compressed, airless environment with all that repetition, a person—maybe even me—could go berserk and act out. Happily, I was able to contain myself. Back on the street the chilly breeze was refreshing, and I walked toward the subway thinking, what a load of crap! I hate those fuckin’ spots!


Yes, it can be very disconcerting to realize that you actually like something that Damien Hirst has made (or rather one of his lackeys has made). I've had the same experience. I wonder though, did you not like the second gallery viewing because of the atmosphere, the work, or your own mental state. Thanks for bravely sharing, I know it can be a tough thing to admit among a community of artists.

I feel like I can always count on you to see things with fresh eyes.......being open to really looking at those paintings is a feat in itself, given all the attention / inches of text they have garnered. I agree with Dee, my favorite part of this post is your observation that 'happy' art is the hardest kind to pull off -- or the 'happy' facet of complicated things is hard to represent without seeming glib or pollyanna. For my part, I can't imagine liking the DH paintings -- but then I HAVn't actually bothered to SEE them, and so -- joke's on me, I guess.

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