Damien Hirst Exhibition Review

 Hirst Hits Leeds (published August 5, 2011 on http://www.leedsuncut.co.uk)

As part of the national ARTIST ROOMS programme, Damien Hirst has paid tribute to his roots in Leeds by establishing a free exhibition in the Leeds Art Gallery. Hirst, who grew up in the city and attended the Leeds College of Art and Design, has collected a handful of his signature modern art from The Tate and National Galleries of Scotland and has flaunted them to all the curious eyes of the public. The display will be running until September and includes iconic pieces such as ‘Away from the Flock’ (that’s the preserved sheep to me and you.)

The two gallery rooms are modestly dressed with an array of paintings and sculpture. Key ideas such as religion, drugs and death are projected from Hirst’s work. The only thing that seems to be lacking is a running theme to connect one image to the next. Each piece stands alone with its own influences and impressions and as such the exhibit feels more like a ‘best of’ rather than a structured display.

An example of this is the reconstruction of Hirst’s imaginative London restaurant ‘Pharmacy’ which in 2003 was closed and its contents auctioned off. Attention to detail is impressive (the wallpaper being a fascinating little gem) but looking out from behind the designated black lines there is a distinct feeling that you are missing out on a greater experience. The urge to explore and examine the tables’ contents must be swallowed back and, instead of soaking in the atmosphere of the booming Notting Hill Gate dining experience, you have to settle for peering through the window of the artists’ novel restaurant.

High-lights of the exhibition included The Anatomy of an Angel; a flawlessly executed sculpture that stands proud inviting all visiting art students to whip out their sketch pads, and ‘Mantra’; the beautifully psychedelic display of hundreds of intricate butterfly wings was an eye-catching burst of colour.

But one piece, more than any, encapsulates the concepts that have made Damien Hirst’s work such a success. An understated photograph, positioned on the far left of the main hall, pictures Hirst aged 16 grinning joyfully, like a child with a handful of sweets whilst posing next to a bloated severed head. The somewhat morbid image, which was taken at the city’s morgue, is simply entitled ‘With Dead Head’ and manages to immediately summarise Hirst’s fascination of the human anatomy – an interest that shines so strongly from his work.

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