An exhibition of works by Britain’s Damien Hirst has just opened at Prague’s Rudolfinum. He is the richest living artist the world has ever seen, and perhaps best known for placing dead animals in formaldehyde and covering a human skull in diamonds. The new show is curated by Gunnar Kvaran from the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo. At its opening, I asked him what it was about Damien Hirst that made him such an art superstar.
“First of all I think he comes from a society which was extremely important related to pop art. Then he has been extremely intelligent in appropriating from art history – like minimalism, conceptual art, pop art and American appropriation art. But he has never left it at a certain kind of banal level.
“Because for Damien Hirst there is also a very important discourse, there are very important narratives where he takes up incredibly important themes, like the notion of life and death, and our relationship with science and religion.”
Many listeners will know his works like the skull covered in diamonds, like the animals in formaldehyde. They aren’t here at this exhibition in Prague – can you tell us about some of the pieces that are here?
“In this exhibition we have the paintings, different types of paintings, referred to as the dot paintings and the spin paintings. We have also paintings related to the butterflies. Then we have sculptures and installations.
“One of the most important pieces in the show is entitled Adam and Eve. It’s a tank piece, similar to the works where Damien Hirst has been working with formaldehyde in his former works.”
The formaldehyde works couldn’t be brought here for technical reasons, the building’s architecture is inappropriate. But I’m curious about one thing – I’ve been reading that the formaldehyde has to be changed in those works. Will those pieces exist in a hundred or two hundred years?
You mean the shark of the formaldehyde?
“The shark. But we have now got confirmation that in fact it was the wrong treatment, given to the shark, that caused this kind of problem. So after, for example for Mother and Child Divided [a cow and a calf cut into sections and placed in separate vitrines] and other works, Damien Hirst has also injected the formaldehyde into the bodies of the animals. That is supposed to make them last longer. But as in real life, nothing is forever.”
So not a good investment in that case?
“Maybe they will last longer than the banks. We never know.”
The exhibition Life, Death and Love features 11 pieces by Damien Hirst. It
runs at Prague’s Rudolfinum Gallery until the end of August.
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