Damien Hirst opens the doors at Gagosian Britannia Street

The exhibition marks the first phase of the project that will see Hirst as curator at the Britannia Street gallery for next year, and it’s the first in the gallery since the artist’s exhibition “The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011” in 2012.

While the reopening of museums in the UK is slowly taking place, private galleries such as the Gagosian already reopened their doors a month ago – and at the Britannia Street headquarters, Damien Hirst has been handling his takeover.

The winner of the Turner Prize, entrepreneur and curator, challenges (so to speak) the belief systems that define human existence in his latest show which analyzes twenty years of his famous artistic career. The artworks stuffing the gallery in “Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures” are a testiment of the years between 1993 and 2021, unfolding not particularly popular gems from the artist, conceived during very popular moments in Hirst’s path, and to which the artist aims to give his own interpretation.

Between the reception and the invigilators, a vintage jewelry made of wooden furniture and glass shutter welcomes us at the entrance – filled with what looks like very expensive necklaces, brooches and rings. Stacked on the corners of the furniture, black garbage bags embellish the work. Hirst’s classic titles are explicit: Snob (2006-20) and Public School Tosser (2006-20) set the conceptual tone of the gallery route.

Stepping into the gallery space, a cow’s head lies in its small pool of frozen blood; on the opposite side, a gorilla in a pretty photorealistic oil on canvas stares at us while eating a pepper (Gorillaz Eats Green Pepper, 2013).  He’s not alone in the natural kingdom: butterflies, flowers and dolphins alternate with different sized canvases portraying, in no particular order, the artist embracing his son Cyrus in a hospital room, Notre Dame Cathedral during the fire of 2019, a scuba diving woman exploring the seabed, a photo of his newborn son and an atomic explosion.

Fact Paintings alternate with Fact Sculptures: these last are detailed replicas of physical laboratories and storage spaces where old boxes have been left open, stacked, while in the center of the room, Love Dies Fast (2020) is an installation of a sink where the concept of love seems to have slipped down the drain.

References to current circumstances – a call to sanitary arms against menacing viruses – loom throughout the exhibition: Remedies Against the Great Infection (2020) and Medi-Safe (2005) offer disinfectants and a first aid kit at hand, while in Warsaw (2008) we find everything we need to protect ourselves from the pandemic threat, such as masks, hospital shoes and healthcare aprons meticulously folded and placed on each shelf. In Don’t Stop Me Now (2006) the furniture is similar, but filled with psychotropic drugs: and again the obsession with order and cleanliness is provided through entire doors covered with oncology books and Persil detergents in five different packs that seem to come directly from the wing of a supermarket. If the message isn’t clear yet, Coke / Diet Coke Vending Machine (2007) is a vending machine that sells cans – for real, the invigilator recommends buying one for a pound, they are signed by Hirst himself, she assures.

In short, the show offers a legacy of modern capitalistic culture, while marrying salient facts of recent news and the artist’s commitment to self-honoring, it attempts to stir up the failure of seductive consumer goods as a necessity. Stressing the image of a truth that is slipping out of hand, more embellished, more concealed, each second more –  Hirst tries to lead us back to the righteous path by showing us facts as the guiding principle of society. Posterity will judge.

The first exhibition of the series “Fact, The Elusive Truth”, was presented at the Gagosian New York in 2005

The exhibition on display at the New York office 16 years ago focused on paintings derived from newspaper photographs. The Fact series can be seen as a self-portrait of Hirst, adding pieces of his life through each artwork: Michael with Diamond Skull (2008), takes us back to Goldsmiths in London and Michael Craig-Martin, Hirst’s former tutor, while he poses with the iconic sculpture For the Love of God (2007); in Self-Portrait as Surgeon (2007) the artist, dressed in blue uniform, stands beside a hospital bed; and Cleaning New Baby (Cyrus) (2007) focuses on the birth of the child.

Hirst and his passion as a curator at the Newport Street Gallery

Hirst has always played at dressing up in the clothes of a curator. At his Newport Street Gallery, also in London, “End of a Century”, set up by Hirst last year, focused entirely on the artist’s early works. In 2016 he curated the Jeff Koons exhibition, but his career as a self-proclaimed curator dates back to 1988, with “Freeze”, a collective of Goldsmiths colleagues, from which the artists Mat Collishaw and Sarah Lucas in particular stood out.

This article has been published on the art magazine Artribune