Damien Hirst and The Complete Spot Paintings.

“Damien Hirst died,” the salesperson at Barney’s told me in earnest this Friday. WHAT? Why hadn’t I heard? I asked, and promptly googled it. The first hit was an article in The Village Voice entitled “Damien Hirst: (1965-2012) In Memoriam.” IT’S TRUE! I told her, although, confused, I tried looking for a NYTimes obit. Then I got home and read the article. They were talking about his career. WHOOPS!

The original spot painting By Damien Hirst, 1986

I wasn’t going to write about the showing/publicity stunt of Damien Hirst & The Gagosian Gallery’s THE COMPLETE SPOT PAINTINGS 1986-2011.

I really wasn’t. Every major news source has had an opinion on it thus far, Huff Post even wrote a recap of all the different reviewers opinions, which you can check out HERE.

My favorite quote was from the NYTimes reviewer who said “The good news, of course, is that they’re not all in one place. And none involve dead animals, maggots, encrusted diamonds or vats of formaldehyde. They’re mostly just grids of repeating, neatly made circles, each a different color. How bad can it be?” Answer: The show is at times “rather good” at times, and at others “oppressive”, “ludicrous” monotonous and “very bad.” Some canvases pulse and sing while others fall flat.

Basically, Damien Hirst and his assistants have produced over 1500 of these paintings between 1986 and 2011, and are showing 331 of them simultaneously in Gagosian galleries worldwide, prompting one attendee to say “The sun doesn’t set on the spot paintings.” (Hirst is also rewarding anyone who visits all 11 galleries with a signed print. HA!)

The spot paitnings are a series of enamel high gloss circles painted onto canvases. The diameter of the spot is equal to the space between them, and no color can repeat on a canvas, although they come quite close.  Apparently, Hirst has only painted 5 of the 1500 of these paintings himself, although he claims that true art is in the conception and that he has been involved in every aspect of their making. He even went so far to say  “The best spot painting you can have by me, is one by my assistant Rachel. Mine are shite compared to hers.” (The highest price ever paid for one was $3.48 million.)

Why am I writing about it then? Because I LOVE seeing the original spot painting and where Hirst took it conceptually from there. Personally, I enjoy the original the most: the messy, drippy, blobby conceptual fetus of a canvas. Its interesting to me to see how far he took it. It really is. The problem is, that the entire formula and the idea of this formulaic making of art has gotten a bit boring after 1500 different incarnations, obviously.What could motivate this man to keep making these things other than money?

Furthermore, the original painting reminds me a lot of my mini paintings: a somewhat under baked idea that is a visually appealing expression of color… It makes me want to develop it further, but not to the point of 1500 paintings.

As Andy Warhol has famously said ” Art is what you can get away with.” Right?

You can visit the spot paintings in a Gagosian Gallery near you until late February. Click HERE for details.


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  1. Lauren says:

    Even though I already told you, there is an original spot painting in my building. Personally, it doesn’t do it for me. I think it’s the type of painting that a person who doesn’t care much for art would look at and go “someone paid money for that?!” I didn’t know the bit about the diameter being equal to the space between the dots or not repeating colors. That makes it a little more interesting for me.

    The assistant thing…is that common among artists to have someone else do their work? I hope they get a nice cut of the profit.

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      I think that while some artists have assistants, I don’t know how many would be able to call something their own work without ever having taken a brush to the canvas… I think it also depends on the works…some artists probably hire assistants to help with the brunt work, but also to do the work they may not be capable of doing… like welding things, etc… embalming dead animals, etc… I think Hirst considers himself a conceptual artist, so for him, the IDEA is what makes the piece important. All though not all artists agree… David Hockney’s poster for his latest show at the Royal Accademy states “made by the artist himself,” obviously a jab at Hirst. You can read about it here.

      And as for a cut of the profits- Hirst tells a story about one of his assistants leaving the job and asking Hirst for a spot painting. He told him: go home and make one yourself! But the assistant wanted one of Hirst’s. “The only difference was the money,” Hirst said.

      So I highly doubt they get any type of cut.

  2. Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been seeing this work and didn’t know whos it was. I love to be well informed on artist and their work.

  3. I love these art posts you do…so interesting and educational.

  4. MMish says:

    I agree with Lindsey, love these art 101 posts!

  5. Nicole Cohen says:

    OK! Great!!! I never know if people are digging them or not!

  6. Jennifer Vercelli says:

    Ditto, love the art posts! Would die to do the 11 gallery challenge….how fun (mostly to visit the places not necessarily to OD on the dots). I will definitely stop by the Beverly Hills gallery as I love the dot graphic and had asked an artist friend to recreate one for me actually.

  7. Shirley F says:

    a somewhat under baked idea that is a visually appealing expression of color…

    great line!