Damien Hirst spearheaded the Young British Artists movement and was instrumental in bringing modern art to the masses. His works are bold and sensationalist but are they quality art? Critics have been quick to label his work ‘con art’, suggesting that his pieces should be sold before they become worthless. Yet his popularity can be measured by the opening day queue that ran the length of the Tate Modern’s turbine hall.
All of his notable works are here, ranging from the simpler pieces of his early career, through to the animals preserved in formaldehyde and on to his jewel encrusted later efforts. Some say that Hirst is obsessed with death and the macabre but this isn’t his only muse. You need only step in to the gallery where butterflies flutter around your head to realise that Hirst’s works are about the entire cycle from life through to death, and that he sees beauty in both.
Works such as the spot paintings can seem a little dry but the majority of the show leaves a lasting impact. Whether you are disgusted or excited by Hirst, there is no doubt that his art is engaging — and you might not be able to forget the smell of rotting flesh and flies for a long time.
So is he an artistic genius or a showy fraudster? Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, Hirst has permanently changed the boundaries of modern art and captured the imaginations of thousands of people, and that’s all that matters.
Damien Hirst is on display at the Tate Modern until 9 September. Tickets are £14 for adults, concessions available. Booking in advance is strongly recommended.
‘For the Love of God’ (the diamond encrusted skull) is located in the Turbine Hall. Admission is free.