Damian Hirst: Forgiving and Forgetting
January 20–February 26, 2022
541 West 24th Street, NYC
I found myself dawdling on the way to Damian Hirst's new show. I had a feeling that I was going to be let down and I knew that that wasn't going to feel good. I had been invested in Hirst's work of the '90s and '00s. By my lights he was taking familiar British tropes of working class life and refiguring them in grotesque unfamiliar ways.
Our local garage in Wales had a chart for spray paint made up of different coloured circles (Hirst's step father was a car mechanic). His butterfly pieces were like the stained glass windows of his Catholic upbringing. I'd grown up with the fiber-glass Spastics charity box and the plastic semi-flayed figures for studying anatomy.
The vitrines reminded me more of school trips to the museum than Beuys. Animals and fish presented as specimens. Particularly grim were those filled with office furniture cramped up to the sides, redolent of oppressive interviews at the Unemployment office that I had endured in my teens.
There was also the marveling and fear that children experience. Having to take medication, a trip to the butchers, Mum going to the gynecologist. It made me think of the way Fellini remagined his childhood using the resources of film.
In a segment called "The Bart Zone" from The Simpsons "Tree House of Horror 2," Bart has super powers -- the ability to change his family and the residents of Springfield in any monstrous way he fancies. At one point, he turns Homer into a half-human jack-in-the-box. The segment realizes the artist's dream of seeing reality through a child’s eyes again and being able to reform it relatively.
At the same time, Hirst's marveling veiled a sadness. In his tenure Prime Minister Tony Blair presided over the erosion of the work force, marking the end of working class life as it had been. A culture that had made community, family and duty its gospel was left in many parts of the country in a nullfidian void with no work to go to to. To me Damian's art looked like an epitaph.
This new show however looks like someone else’s culture. Someone else’s history, someone else's childhood.