British artist and self-marketing genius Damien Hirst looks to connect the dots in a big way with the opening Thursday of a global show for his body of colored spot paintings.
The Gagosian Gallery network, with 11 locations in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Athens, Geneva and Hong Kong, has been turned over entirely to Hirst’s geometric blizzard of round spots.
At a media preview Wednesday in one of the New York galleries, Damien Hirst posed for photographs and spent a few minutes chatting with staff.
Dressed in a bright orange ski hat, white jacket and jeans, the controversy-seeking enfant terrible of contemporary art lived up to his superstar image by declining to speak even briefly to the press.
About 100 of the 300 works on display around the world are for sale, Gagosian Gallery said.
Gagosian refused to reveal prices but the flood of paintings — which Hirst admits have been almost entirely executed by assistants — offer him a chance to regain his perch at the top of the contemporary art heap. At auction, the spot paintings, varying hugely in scale, fetch up to $1.8 million apiece.
In 2008, Hirst made headlines for vast sums paid for works hailed by fans as challenging or revolutionary and dismissed by critics as shock jock commercialism.
Bucking panic in the stock markets and ranks of the world’s super-rich, his "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever" sale at Sotheby’s fetched an astonishing £111 million ($198 million, €140 million).
A year earlier, he sold a diamond-encrusted skull for £50 million pounds (€63 million, $100 million).
Hirst’s star has dimmed somewhat, but the Gagosian show and an upcoming major retrospective at the Tate Modern in London this April will be a opportunity to redress that.
Like Hirst’s pickled shark or the infamous "Golden Calf," the "Pharmaceutical Paintings," as the spot works are formally titled, prompt everything from scoffing to philosophical treatises on the nature of art.
Drawn from a total of some 1,500 spot paintings, two thirds of the works on show are loaned by collectors and museums.
Although at first glance the paintings might look a great deal alike — apart from the size of the dots — they are distinguished by never having the same color repeated on any one canvas. In some works the dots are the size of a full stop and in others the size of a large wheel.
Millicent Wilner, director of Gagosian London, said at Wednesday’s New York preview said the paintings "really fit in with nature, they are endless, timeless."
Hirst himself readily admits that he has painted very few of the works bearing his name. Assistants execute nearly every one of the neat, meticulously arranged circles.
Gagosian kept this controversial aspect of Hirst’s output quiet, saying in its media kit only that "having made the first five spot paintings himself, Hirst then handed over the actual making of the works to assistants — the act of art-making lay in their concept."
Fellow British painter David Hockney this month made a barbed critique of the practice, saying it was "a little insulting to craftsmen, skillful craftsmen."
Hockney quoted a traditional Chinese saying, that to paint "you need the eye, the hand and the heart. Two won’t do."
However the practice of an Andy Warhol-style "factory" is not unusual through art history and Hirst himself has joked in interviews that he himself found the technique required boring.
In the Gagosian publicity brochure, Hirst also acknowledged that not everybody gets his oeuvre.
"I often get asked about the spot paintings — ‘I love your work, but why do you do those stupid spots?’" he said. According to the artist, or perhaps more accurately the foreman of the artistic team, the criticism is "not my problem."
"Art is like medicine — it can heal. Yet I’ve always been amazed at how many people believe in medicine but don’t believe in art."
Artist Damien Hirst poses in New York in front of one of his paintings “Minoxidil 2005.” (AFP Photo/ Timothy A. Clary).