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February 6, 2012

For this post, TruffleHunting takes a new twist! I have enlisted the help and insight of several correspondents around the world in an attempt to cover all 11 exhibitions in 8 countries of Damien Hirst’s Complete Spot Paintings at Gagosian Gallery. This has been a bit of a logistical challenge with over 100 emails and networking that has harnessed the social digital releam. With two weeks left in the run of the multi part exhibition, I’m pleased to present an overview of 7 out of the 11 exhibitions covering 5 out of the 8 “spotted” cities where the exhibitions appear! Our correspondants in Rome and London will arrive soon with their reports. As your Master TruffleHunter I will start the ball rolling with Beverly Hills! 

Beverly Hills, California

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 456 North Camden Drive (two views)

I like them. I like them very much. I thought I wouldn’t bury the lead this time with meticulous metaphors. I like them for what they are. I like the artist’s ambition. I like the paintings’ execution.  The Carney atmosphere of an 11 gallery, 8-city mega-exhibition is natural catnip for pundits and artistic dialogue. There are several people whose collective panties get knotted and bunched when an artist of means, and a gallery of even greater means, dares to mount a press-baiting spectacular. To those whose underwear is macramé, I say-Breathe! The stunt is icing on a cake. Behold the work.

The Beverley Hills Exhibition contained 23 examples of Damien Hirst’s Spot Painting series stretching from 1992 to 2011. The early paradigm of the spot paintings needs mentioning. The size of the spots is the size of the space between the spots. The spots kiss the edge of the canvas never going over. So a painting with 11 two-inch spots has 10 spaces and is thus a perfect 42 inches across. This mathematical precision is visually gauling for the spaces always seem to be larger.

Adrenalin, 1992 with detail shot of compass holes. Damien Hirst at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 456 North Camden Drive

There was a wonderful early example from 1992, called Adrenalin that had a charming index to the organic nature of the making of the painting. Upon closer examination you could see the tiny pinholes in the center of each spot made by the compass that was used to draw the template. Examples soon there after didn’t have this analogue residue but the perfect ones didn’t loose anything. I bring this up because of the wonderful nature of trajectory that it offers.

Untitled (Nick, Margot, Chris and India) from 1999 at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 456 North Camden Drive

Untitled (Nick, Margot, Chris and India) from 1999 are four canvases acting as one piece. An inattentive eye might not notice that the color pattern is identical in each enlarged canvas. Scale ratios of course are also an issue: Margot is double the size of Nick; Chris is 50% larger than Margot and India is nearly 25% larger than Chris. Thought, intentionality and serial execution are at work in subterranean ways constantly.

Much has been made of the perfect execution of the aesthetic paradigm. Two viewers I spoke to at the Beverley Hills Gallery commented on the lack of brushstrokes. As an artist I must mention that it is Hirst’s choice of Household Enamel that helps achieve this sheen. Enamel is a thick, extremely slow drying paint. Therefore it is self-leveling. You lay it down with a brush and the paint pools, thereby eliminating any trace of human contact. The circle it must be said is a confoundingly difficult thing to paint as well. Go the smallest bit over the lines and it is immediately visible as imperfect.

The Reflective Nature of the enamel spots as seen at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 456 North Camden Drive

The glossy sheen of the enamel also affects the eye with the contrast to the matte nature of white primed canvas. Seen from an angle, the spots sparkle and reflect the light of the room. They almost hover above the canvas. The exhilarating light of the Beverly Hills Gallery accentuated this effect and the spots were reflected in the polished concrete of the space as well.

The Spots reflected in the glossy concrete floor as seen at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 456 North Camden Drive

Lastly I must say that in a fine art landscape that over values the sturm and drang of fine art narrative, Damien Hirst’s Spot Paintings are unapologetically cheerful. They offer a burst of eye candy that is welcome. They are simply attractive.

Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles

New York City, Uptown Madison Avenue and 76th Street

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, NYC, 980 Madison Avenue (two views)

It’s Damien Hirst’s 8-City 11-Venue Rock-Star Tour! Get up to the Gagosian Shop at Madison Avenue and 76th Street NOW! To get your Tour T-shirts, souvenir key-chain fobs, coffee mugs, butterfly-print beach chairs, and diamond-dusted oh-so-limited edition prints. Hurry, hurry, hurry – Step right this way! Oops. I almost forgot: There is also an exhibition of the Uptown segment of Hirst’s “The Complete Spot Paintings  1986-2011” next door in the Gagosian Galleries.

It is indeed easy to be cynical about the size and scale of Hirst’s exhibition in collaboration with the powerful tastemakers of Gagosian. So many paintings in exactly the same style (No! They’re all different, don’t you see? Some have a lot of tiny little dots and some have just a few very big dots and they’re all different sizes from 9” x 9” to over 15 ‘ high and 20 feet wide!) Churned out by an army of assistants under loose direction of Hirst who said, “I couldn’t be fucking arsed doing it” * himself. I have no problem with that angle per se, as artists with large studios have done so for centuries from the Renaissance on – think of Verrocchio or Rubens. The gulf is immense, though, between those earlier artists who spent their youths as apprentices arduously learning their crafts first and then rising through hard work and immense talent to the high points of their age and Hirst, who has been quoted as saying “I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it.”  **

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, NYC, 980 Madison Avenue

And yet, and yet… As I walked through the galleries, I found myself intrigued by the sheer scale of this industrial art enterprise and when I paused found some of the paintings themselves intriguing. There were a few small pieces of 5mm dots that from a distance seemed to create subliminal patterns in the light and dark gradations of the multi-colored array. On a larger painting of perhaps one hundred 5-inch dots, the dots were right up to the edge of the canvas, creating an optical illusion of the canvas seeming to bend and stretch around them.

But as I left the gallery and walked back to the Subway, I came away with the feeling that it is all a parlor trick that has worked spectacularly well.  Hirst, along with the late-80’s Goldsmith’s art school mafia collectively known as the YBAs (Young British Artists), came out of school seeking celebrity and wealth. In an era obsessed with both, several of them have achieved their goal. Whether or not he has achieved Art Immortality is another question not to be settled for decades, even centuries.

This is probably a question that doesn’t matter to Hirst at all. The goal has been achieved: He is now a regular feature in the UK celebrity tabloid press and possibly the world’s wealthiest artist.

*Hirst, Damien and Burn, Gordon (2001). On the Way to Work. Faber

** Spalding, Julian. “Why it’s OK not to like Modern Art”, The Times (2nd page online), 8 May 2003

Richard Bram. New York, New York

New York City, Chelsea, 24th Street Gallery

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, NYC, 555 West 24th Street (two views)

Gagosian’s 24th street space has been divided up into 3 large gallery spaces for this portion of The Complete Spot Paintings. Representing 3 different styles of the spots. The 27 paintings on display were executed between 1998 and 2009, all of them in large scale. The first gallery has 8 of the large fairly straightforward canvases from the series (one of which has been framed, by the owner I would assume as investment protection) with medium size spots.

Gallery II is a long narrow space with 8 of the large round paintings. Pushing the circle on circle motif is a little forced here. I thought the most successful of these was an early one, “Zeatin” from 1998. A 72″ diameter piece

with 1 1/2 spots spiraling at the viewer in a mesmerizing pattern. I overheard one woman say she could not look at it too long.

The largest room, gallery III has 11 of the oversize paintings with spots from 12″ to 60″ on canvases from 3 feet square to almost full ceiling height.  (see photos)  These are the real crowd pleasers, keeping the security guards busy as viewers try to get a close up look or take pictures of the paintings. You are allowed to take pictures, as long as someone is standing in front of the painting. Kind of fun when the spots are nearly 6 feet around.

Oh, and don’t forget the Spot Shop where Hirst’s silkscreen prints are available priced from $4,500-6,500. If that is still out of your price range you can get a pin for $1.

Hirst is not the only blockbuster show on the block, just next door at Mary Boone is the very impressive Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds installation. Gladstone has the latest Shirin Neshat works which opened the same night as Damien’s making for quite the crowd that evening. Luhring Augustine just opened Joel Sternfeld: First Pictures with bright brand new prints of early 70’s and 80’s images. Also a fun little show at Freight&Volume, Mie: a Portrait by 35 Artists.

-John F Cowey, JFC Art Services, New York, New York

New York City, Chelsea, 21st Street Gallery

I’ve never been a big fan of the Spot Painting series.  When it comes to Damien Hirst, I’m more the sort who goes for a butterfly-wing painting or suspended shark.  Heck, I’ll even take the silly (but dazzling) diamond encrusted skull over a spot painting—So sue me.

That said, I made a point to walk into the exhibition at 21st Street with an open mind.  I’d only ever seen one or two spot paintings in person, and maybe presented as a group, they would speak to me.  Maybe I would learn something.  I’m a collaborative person, and I like to live and work among people who I find fascinating and inspirational.  So, to make the visit more fun, and gather additional feedback in the form of respected opinions, I brought along a few friends: Jason Voegle (founder of Republic Worldwide), Seze Devres (artist), and Bryan Kasenic (aka Spinoza, DJ and founder of The Bunker).

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, NYC, 522 West 21st Street

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and the gallery although busy with the usual assortment of suits, strollers, and art folks, was not overly crowded. There was lots of chatting, art students taking snaps of the installation, and spectators breezing by the paintings.  No one seemed very captivated by the work, however—it felt like more of a “check-it-off-the-list” pit stop for most.  The space was vast and open, giving the installation and attendees plenty of room to breathe and absorb.  But absorb what exactly?

The Press Release did include this quote from the artist: “I was always a colorist. I’ve always had a phenomenal love of color… So that’s where the paintings came from—to create that structure to do those colors, and do nothing.  I suddenly got what I wanted.  It was just a way of pinning down the joy of color.” Intriguing.  For a project that claims to celebrate the joy of color, these paintings come off a bit joyless to me. In contrast to the charged color of say, a Rothko, the color in these paintings is prim, mechanical, and soulless– doled out in precise amounts by assistants in a warehouse studio.  The result is so two dimensional, so reductive, so Abstract, so minimal, that for me, the paintings move past the realm of meaning.  They strike no chord of emotion.  I had to agree with Jason, who commented after seeing the show, “I feel nothing”.

The best aspect of the paintings, which are all executed in a strict grid pattern, is the intensity of the pigments and glossy sheen of the dots.  The way they can sometimes seem to vibrate up and off the background is an enjoyable illusion.  But I still find the work too austere to be much of a good time.  The dots bring to mind color aid paper, and appear to be something even less than a study– more an assignment.  My three cohorts agreed.  It was mentioned that one painting looked “like a twister mat that you’ll never get to play with”, stripped of its playful logos and made precious by being hung up on the wall.  How un-fun is that?

After a while, we decided to bend the rules of our TruffleHunting assignment a bit and head over to the 24th street location to see if it had anything more to offer. Low and behold, it did!  There is an entire room of paintings with spots arranged in circles– flowing, concentric, bending, weaving.  We all agreed these were much more rewarding than the static works in the previous space.  The 24th St location also has a small “shop” up front with all kinds of MoMA store type offerings—skateboard decks, wall clocks, mugs– all sporting the Hirst spot treatment.  This goofy schwag display is a bit of an eye roll, but hey, if somebody wants to wear an “I SPOT DH” button, I say go for it.  And honestly, some of these commercial applications seem to bring the Spots to life more than the original paintings.

There has been lots of grumbling and judgmental snorts of dismissal from those who frown upon the scale of this exhibition as being too much, too showy, too BIG. I, however, have a soft spot for over-the-top showmanship and appreciate the partnership of Hirst and Gagosian– two like minds with a common goal.  I’m all for an outrageous, oversized, gorgeous, jaw dropping spectacle. Shake a tail-feather Damien and Larry!  Modesty be damned!  One only need look so far as Christo and Jean Claude, The Starn Twins, Jeff Koons, and the Art Mega-Mall style of the contemporary fairs to see that (even in these difficult economic times) the art world adores the bold and the brash!  Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the spot paintings qualify as either, nor do they deserve the over hyped praise that accompanies an 11 gallery worldwide show…

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, NYC, 522 West 21st Street, Jamey Poole, TruffleHunter

At the end of the day, my art chums and I decided that some of the other shows we saw in Chelsea were far more captivating.  The Lumarca 153 light installation at Eyebeam and the Monica Cook show at Postmasters carried over into dinner conversation and beyond.  The spot paintings, on the other hand, were quickly forgotten.

-Jamey Poole, Art Maven, nothing to sell, nothing to hide

Paris, France

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, Paris, 4 rue de Ponthieu (two views)

Two American Expat Friends in Paris write: We visited the Gagosian gallery on Paris on Sat. Jan. 28 to see the Damien Hirst Spot paintings. There was no viewing of links or reading of reviews prior to the gallery visit so as to permit a totally open mind to the work. There were scattered visitors composed mostly of young to middle-aged adults and a few who seemed to be the collector types.

We interviewed Mounir, the gallery guard, as we were curious to get his view. Mounir, of North African descent, is in his early thirties. He did not benefit from an upbringing where culture or art was present.  Leisure time consisted of sports with his two brothers. He’s in the personal security business and has been at the gallery for a month.  He confided to us that he’s grown to appreciate contemporary art and has gotten over some of his preconceptions.  Mounir has come to enjoy the spot oeuvre and when visitor traffic is slow, has taken to consulting the Damien Hirst catalogues on display.  Reading about the work has allowed him to learn and obtain a better understanding of contemporary art.

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, Paris, 4 rue de Ponthieu

Jennifer (+25 years in Paris) writes:

I have known of Damien Hirst since he became the enfant terrible of contemporary art a number of years ago.  I never cared much for the formaldehyde sawed-in-half animals.  The other Hirst work I was familiar with was the mirrored pills.  I did not know the Spot works before yesterday and I must say I quite liked them.  While initially cheerful (I’ve always considered polka dots to be happy) with the white background and the gay colors, the work is also optically challenging as there is a bit of strain on the eyes (and therefore the brain).

My favorite pieces are the large round painting where the choice of color spots allows one to make out concentric ellipses and the smallest square painting in the gallery where again the choice of color spots accentuates the white space between the spots to show right angle lanes or boulevards.

Russ (2 years in Paris) writes:

I was only vaguely familiar with Hirst from once seeing on the Internet the “Pills” work. The “Spots” pieces here were more interesting than I had imagined they would be. The round piece at the entry was very interesting and full of movement, which varied for me as I looked at it from different angles. My second favorite piece was nearby in direct view just as you enter the gallery space from the entry-its scale and dot formation appealed to me compared to other pieces. I have a conceptual math/physics background, and I really enjoyed the color spectra, spot density, white space and overall scale variation of the pieces. The littlest one with small spots was also very interesting and dynamic…

Geneva, Switzerland

"The guys at the gallery didn't allow me to take any photos of the paintings. I took one photo, which is more beautiful than any of the paintings in my opinion." -C. Chalamet, Damien Hirst at Gagosian, Geneva, 19 place de Longemalle

Geneva exhibit Of Damien Hirst’s “Pharmaceutical paintings” (otherwise known as “spot paintings”)

Today (January 30, 2012) I visited the Geneva branch of the Gagosian Gallery, right in the center of town. This was my first encounter with Damien Hirst’s works. The gallery is small; it consists of one main room, where several paintings are beautifully displayed. I was more impressed by the place, and the professional welcome visitors receive, than the paintings themselves, small and big colorful “spots” (I prefer Hirst’s own expression – “pharmaceutical paintings” – for there is a coldness in these words which reflect my experience of these works). I was struck by the presence of “produits derives” (derivative products) for sale in an adjacent room: a pharmaceutically painted skateboard, t-shirts and a few other things. Welcome to (an important aspect of) today’s art world !

One of the paintings, smaller than the others, had very tiny colorful spots, close to each other. It was the one that attracted me the most, the bigger spots in the other paintings look too much like things in my two-year old’s room. The small spots made me want to look longer at them, from various distances. They looked more human, unlike the other ones there seemed to be something layered about that painting. Personally I am not very interested in “a person trying to paint like a machine”, or in a “scientific approach to painting” – Hirst’s own words. This is exactly why I can’t relate much to these works:” I like the way, Hirst declares, “ the paintings look like they could have been made by a big machine – the machine being the artist in the future.” I sure hope Hirst is mistaken in his vision of art in the future!

-C. Chalamet, Switzerland


Step off Pedder Street, one of Hong Kong’s busiest (a prime business district known for its ritzy shops and taxi drop-offs), take the elevator seven floors and you’re in the local branch of the Gagosian Gallery, where Damien Hirst’s spot paintings currently reside.

The gallery boasts two main rooms (one nearly self enclosed and a much longer one) and even a galaxy of white space in between can’t hide the dizzying array of dots on Hirst’s paintings. It’s been said that this collection represents how insignificant we all really are. It also may be a reflection of the place that we live in. If so, several of the denser, smaller dot filled paintings are enough to make one turn away quickly.

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, Hong Kong, 12 Pedder Street Central

No matter how many different colors are represented, at least four of the paintings are extremely claustrophobic, akin to an optical illusion that is taken to its bizarre extreme. In other words, they’re admirable to look at – such precision and attention to detail! But, they’re not particularly enjoyable as pure art pieces—hanging them in your living room would be enough to add your own personal artwork after a heavy night out drinking.

Still, there are gems here, most notably among the paintings that are sparser. Bromaquanine, located in the smaller room with a bookshelf nearby, is one such example. Just four large dots occupy the space – yellow, purple, red and blue – and it provokes a happy, contemplative feeling of peace. As a side note, it also recalls that recent OK Go video for Sesame Street in which they sing gleefully about primary colors.

Damien Hirst at Gagosian, Hong Kong, 12 Pedder Street Central

Another painting in the main room echoes this theme – and it contains just nine colors. Of course, it could be said that one can learn to appreciate more spots once one gets used to less. But Hirst would surely readily agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder here.

So from a Hong Kong standpoint, the Gagosian Gallery is getting plenty of visitors for this exhibition. It’s also worth noting that the collective display certainly sticks in the mind – enough to make more than one visit. From an aesthetic point of view, it’s a fine representation of color. As for its overall impact, Hirst’s collection of spots may be memorable, but it’s hard to truly appreciate as a groundbreaking art exhibition.

-Scott Murphy is a TV writer based in Hong Kong who also writes for several publications. He can be found on both Facebook and Linked In

An Ongoing Bibliography to Some of the Press this Epic Endeavor has Garnered (All Hot Linked)

Jerry Saltz Chimes in on Spots

Hirst interviewed on Charlie Rose

Hirst Shop of Items mentioned. Cups, T-Shirts and Skateboards!

10 brief excepts of reviews

Hirst’s Spots by the numbers

First Hirst-a-palooza winners.

Nowness presents a video interview with the artist

A street Artist tackles Hirst.

Hirst reveals his spot supply.

As with all posts, Tweets, Reposts, Likes, Comments and Shares are always welcomed and encouraged. Subscribe to the Blog as well! Become part of the dialogue!


Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, CA

  1. Wowee! What an accomplishment from your desk in LA, Mario. Thanks for giving us the show reviews all in one place. There’s a piece about one person who visited all the cities and galleries to get the free print in the WSJ Off Duty section from Saturday but it treats the endeavor as a joke. Your truffle hunting blog is a much needed look at the artistic value of the mega-show and Hirst and Gagosian’s ability to pull it off. Your correspondents are fresh, interesting, and I look forward to reading the final posts when they come in.

  2. What a great idea! I loved this overview. I must say the first thing I thought of was Murakami’s ’08 Moca show. I admire the technical aspect of the composition and their ability to tap into some basic emotion with their use of color. There’s certainly a therapeutic aspect to this- I feel light every time I see polka dots!

  3. Mossviz permalink

    1. I agree with Jennifer; she was lucky enough to get to “review” the round one. I can’t even imagine the horror of nothing bur right angles.
    2. This is the first time I’ve encountered any artwork that would be hard to “sell” to my Art Appreciation and Art History students; can’t even come up with one comment worthy of a “rim-shot”.
    3. I haven’t thought about “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in years.
    4. I did enjoy remembering the story however.

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