Damien Hirst’s ‘Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures’ Exhibition Launches a Year-Long Takeover at Gagosian
It doesn’t seem so long ago, Damien Hirst was directing Blur videos, notoriously partying with Alex James and Keith Allen, and generally turning the contemporary art world into his own personal treatise on cultural provocation. But as his new exhibition Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures opens at the Gagosian Britannia Street space, including rarely seen works created between 1993 and 2021, one realizes that the math doesn’t lie, and that he’s actually been at this for a little more than three decades now.
The show kicks off what is likely to be the coming year’s most discussed single artist event: a one year takeover of the high-profile London gallery, which will happen in phases over the next twelve months. The title of the first exhibition is significant to its purpose, as Hirst, who has always taken aim at the very heart of the socio-cultural zeitgeist and hit the target virtually every time, here is taking on the holy mother of all human matters: truth itself.
A learned student and interpreter of history, he has fairly intrepidly – and mostly successfully – faced off with the great questions of both our physical and philosophical existences, including God, mortality, modern medicine, even Britain’s shameful Colonial history. He has somehow managed to consistently draw out beauty through provocation, but also never really minded reminding us how ugly it could all sometimes be.
And now via his Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures series, created over a period of two-plus decades, he also appears to be nothing short of a prophet. Indeed, as digital communication and social media have carried out a devastatingly effective assault on the very notion of verity, we find ourselves now living in a world where terms like “Post-Truth” and “alternative facts” are matter-of-factly injected into the overarching conversation.
The Fact Paintings themselves are rendered in oil on canvas, and are meant to mimic color photographs – which is perhaps Hirst’s way of stealing back the business of making representational images from the forces of the photographic world, which more than a century ago decisively stole it away from the painters. But upon closer consideration, one begins to grasp the works’ connection to real events in his life, as well. To wit, Cleaning New Baby (Cyrus) (2007), is a depiction of his own son.
But in the case of his Fact Sculptures, Coke machines and medicine cabinets speak to the sugar-infested, pill-popping contemporary quick fix culture that Hirst has so often analyzed/eviscerated in his work. And so his Remedies Against the Great Infection (2020) ends up the sort of “I told you so” that all prophets hope will never actually come to be, as our relentless consumer culture and the raping of the Earth’s natural resources are unquestionably a direct cause of the utter magnitude of the COVID-19 horror.
So, yes, Gagosian’s Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures is perhaps at once a condensed autobiography of the now middle-aged Damien Hirst, as well as a revelatory look back at 28 years of his unflinchingly interpreting the world around us, so that we may better understand how to move forward within it. And let’s be honest – where else could one find such a keen juxtaposition of gorillas, butterflies and an exceedingly bloodied Sid Vicious? Whatever it all actually means.
All images courtesy of Gagosian.