In The Darkest Hour There May Be light - Serpentine Gallery, London
It's difficult to see this new show at the Serpentine as anything other than the latest manoeuvre by the Damien Hirst Brand. A seemingly random sample of some of the vast "Murderme" collection Hirst has amassed that succeeds as a demonstration of Hirst's spending power whilst failing as a cohesive art exhibition.
It is poorly curated and poorly displayed. There are hints at the very loose theme of death - afterall, it has skulls and bones and lumps of meat - but really, isn't all of human life to do with death. It might have been as well to narrow down the parameters of inclusion as what we are presented with resembles a preview day at a contemporary art sale. And, given Hirst's willingness to discuss the value of his collection at every opportunity, it's a surprise that there isn't a guide price next to each of the artworks.
As for the work: There are a few highlights; Richard Prince's joke paintings are still wonderful and close-up you can see lettering that has been rubbed away and overpainted which seems to somehow breath life into the texts as if they were being mumbled or stammered; There is a Francis Bacon which for me didn't really work at all in the space and seemed to be included just because it was so expensive; There are some Warhol's and these, of course, shine like a beacon in a vacuous show like this. Can you even imagine how much Warhol would be worth if he was alive and making artwork now? Hirst's ¬£100M would be chump-change.
Sarah Lucas still says the same old thing - Men are stupid and smoking is cool. Who could disagree there? Half of one room is given over to her "wanking-car" zealously guarded by attendants. "Don't touch the artwork" says one as somebody brushes past the boot of this black doorless BMW, so old and knackered that even Kensington traffic wardens wouldn't ticket it. Those are her chicken-knickers up above. Old style agit-feminism. She is over-represented but cynics may cite the fact that as Hirst remains her main collector any exposure is good business.
There are two Bansky paintings. One of his Ronald Mcdonald meets Mickey Mouse meets Screaming Napalm Girl. It's a version of one of his prints but it doesn't benefit any by being blown up to such a huge size. Jim Lambie makes the kind of art that somebody who has worked too long in a secondhand record shop might make. Generally this is no bad thing. Here he takes on the Byrds as he has taken on the Kinks, but, like the Jeff Koons Hoovers in the adjacent room, there is really not enough space given to the work for it to really function.
Whilst Hirst may squirm at the suggestion that this is him playing the Saatchi role, the inclusion of Laurence Owen's feeble dogging daub recalls Saatchi's championing of the equally inept sex-paintings of Martin Maloney.
Hirst hopes to eventually house his collection in his country mansion, but this sampling of "Murderme" is as depressingly predictable as Hirst's own art has become. It must be easy to just have a team of people painting spots for you and counting in the money but as time drags on Hirst's legacy is in danger of rotting away like his iconic shark.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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