This week has been a very busy week with lots of gallery visits and the exhausting Frieze Art Fair all taken in. Yesterday, amongst other shows, I went to see the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Wallace Collection. I have to say I was highly sceptical, not being the biggest fan of Hirst's past work. The show consists of about twenty paintings based around the theme of death (nothing new, then) that have been painted by the artist's own hand, a noted departure from his Factory-style assistant-produced artworks of old. The first thing to comment on, an unavoidable talking point, is the location of the show. The Wallace Collection is a family collection of mostly 15th and 16th century oil paintings and artefacts, and for Hirst to assume he has the right to show his work there (he funded the show himself, to the tune of £250,000...) is quite insulting, to be honest. Fair enough, he has generated much interest and probably increased the visitor count ten fold, but his paintings are just so incongruous and completely at odds with the many other works of art that the Collection houses that it all feels a bit... distasteful.
Now, the paintings themselves. To say they are an homage to Francis Bacon is an understatement: large scale paintings in prussian blue covered in geometric lines, including a couple of triptychs, featuring such symbols of death as the skull and a lemon. Yes, a lemon. The tour guide, who was doing her best to convince us of a great depth of meaning and significance to these paintings, duly informed us that Hirst intended the lemon as a symbol of death, despite the fact that historically the closest a lemon has come to being a symbol of anything is the inclusion of lemon trees in paintings of the Virgin Mary. There was more, of course. He also included spots in many of the paintings, apparently signifying the death of his old practice (his spot paintings are somewhat of a trademark) and the next stage in his artistic career. In other words, he has realised that the spot paintings and the diamond encrusted skull were hollow and meaningless and has decided to try his hand at the lonely, romantic painter locked away in his studio image. Perhaps this would be ok, were the paintings not so two dimensional and repetitive. Each one feels like a reworking of the last, as if he's taken four elements and tried to configure the most number of ways of composing them possible.
Before heading over to the exhibition a friend and I happened to bump into Adrian Searles, chief art critic at The Guardian who we'd seen take part in a debate at Frieze. He was friendly and had time for conversation, and even recommended a show. This show was by Sarah Lucas, who along with Hirst came to prominence in the 90s as part of the famed YBAs. The contrast is telling: hers, held in a disused shop in Dover Street, was original, intriguing, and held your interest as you took in the four floors worth of art. Hirst's? Well, I think I've made my feelings clear. "Don't get sucked in by Damien" were Searles' parting words. Needless to say, I didn't.