The story is not a new one, it’s only Damien Hirst hitting again with a new ‘artwork’ of his, this time provoking the death of 9,000 butterflies in his latest exhibition at the Tate Gallery, ‘In and Out of Love’. The Animal Rights groups are outraged, while the artist and the Tate claim that the butterflies selected for the exhibition were selected carefully for the exhibition environment (two rooms with no windows, with visitors walking in and out) and that they (the butterflies) lived out the final stage of their natural life cycle inside the room. This is exactly what Hirst is after: a debate about his art, media attention, spotlights, and controversy. As I said, nothing new for an artist accustomed to fame and fortune, a man accused of banalizing culture as Mario Vargas Llosa put it.
Hirst, a prominent YBAs (Young British Artists) member, rose to fame thanks to the Charles Saatchi (Saatchi Gallery owner) who sponsored him. The first shock to the art world came with Hirst’s work titled ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’, featuring a pickled tiger shark (suspended in a formaldehyde tank). Apart from raising many eyebrows as to whether it was art at all, it sold for 8 million dollars (some say $ 12 million).
But Hirst, like Warhol before him, knows how to sell his image and convert himself into a brand. In 2008, he sold a complete show called ‘Beautiful inside my Head Forever’ for around $ 200 million.
One glance at Hirst’s ‘In Nomine Patris’ (In the Name of the Father), ‘Mother and Child Divided’ or ‘A Thousand Years’ is enough to irritate any animal lover and maybe offend the conventional viewer for their content and insinuation. Aesthetically speaking, I find Hirst’s art ugly and highly provocative, but that –in part- is what makes him so popular (and important, I daresay): his art reflects the ills of our contemporary society and the culture of the spectacle…an –in-your-face reflection on our condition.
Hirst does not miss a chance for his art and his character to remain a trending topic. A couple of days ago, a work of his featuring a pregnant mother (a huge bronze-clad statue called Verity) was erected in Illfracombe town, received as a 20 year loan from the artist. In no time, the statue polarized public opinion and the debate is on.