Wednesday 25 November 2009

Art and the Marmite Position

Adrian Searle's reviews of two Damien Hirst exhibitions of new paintings are a must-read:

For someone who enjoys "art", eg the fine arts, but doesn't go to see new work enough, Adrian Searle's reviews are a real eye-opener to Hirst's most recent work: his self-brushed paintings. When we lose touch with a discipline (I studied art and drama at Poly) it is easy, and lazy, to adopt the "Marmite Position": you either like it or you hate it. I rarely find I "like" or "hate" contemporary art works passionately because I feel out of the loop; I haven't done the groundwork to be able to fully appreciate the work. Sure, I have buckets of prejudices. I can rant against Tracy Emin's bed or tent as good as the next ranter but it can feel cheap. You have to make the effort to see the work live. You need to read about it. You should try and place it in the context of the history of art before you make a Marmite decision.

Adrian Searle comes down quite heavily on Hirst's paintings. A sculptor friend on Facebook would seem to concur with Searle as his status updates and postings read like the crowds who mock the Emperor's new clothes: "Pah! See he can't paint! Useless!" This may well be the case. However, Searle's reviews are a brilliant balancing of harsh words and sympathy for an artist who is, apparently, exposing a lack of talent. In the October review of No Love Lost, Blue Paintings - The Wallace Collection (, Searle describes Hirst's blue gloomy skull paintings as suffering from "the old mortality shtick". Whilst at the end of the article he is almost reaching out to Hirst with his skeletal art critic's arm (if you will) and an admission of personal failure in the pursuit of painting:
I want to be encouraging. It's tough, trying to out-paint your influences, tougher still to keep failing at it so publicly. As a painter, I too tried and failed. Whatever his borrowings, Hirst did all this himself, unaided by his armies of assistants. He fills up his art with dead things: even the iguanas look stuffed. But these paintings are a memento mori for a reputation.
Searle goes even further in his November review of Nothing Matters - White Cube ( and tries to break down what is missing and problematic about the new paintings. Hirst is criticised for being too hurried, too eager to be on display. These words dig deep into the problem, the universal problem of application. In moments of self-doubt we all have to face up to the question: have I done the work? If the answer is an honest "yes" then it is the job of your peers to judge the worth of your work. The following criticism reads like an important lesson for all producers of art, young and old, but is a more general observation about commitment. Even when we work hard we may not be inspired but inspiration has to be the corollary of self-discipline and hard work. Doesn't it?
Hirst's scenes of destruction and misery haven't undergone the reworkings or journeys they need to go on in order to arrive somewhere new. They are too artful, and his current shows are premature – however much he needed to go through the process of making the works themselves. In the end, what it comes down to is Hirst's touch, or lack of it. It lacks conviction. His paintings are filled with approximations.
One would have to say this is quite damning, if it were true. I am going to make a stirling effort to find out for myself.

No Love Lost, Blue Paintings
14 Oct-24 Jan 2010

Nothing Matters
25 Nov—30 Jan 2010

1 comment:

jafabrit said...

It's hard to evaluate the work without actually seeing them in the real but from what I have seen online (which is very limited yes) they are not horrible but not very good either. I guess he just didn't shock and awe the critics socks off, and wo betide he should create egads dare I say mediocre paintings.

looking up the word marmite led me here and yes I LOVE marmite lol!