In celebration of Valentines Day, Paul Stolper Gallery presented ‘LOVE’, a pop-up exhibition of new Damien Hirst prints and sculptural edition.
Is Damien Hirst short of cash? Presumably not, so he must have some psychological, intellectual or even aesthetic fascination with making it. His creed is money for money’s sake. There is no reason for his latest exhibition except to squeeze a few thousand quid out of punters innocent enough to think a Damien Hirst print makes a cool gift for Valentine’s Day.
For Hirst has joined the desperate high-street shops trying to cash in on lurv, with a series of incredibly banal and basic variations on love hearts manufactured as a signed multiple print edition. Oh, the efficiency of it.
His dot patterns have long been imitated by manufactuers of wrapping paper. Now he returns the compliment by producing prints that have all the originality and artistic depth of a Valentine card.
Butterflies and hearts – those are the identical images on each print, available in a variety of colours such as gold, black and red. The colours are nice. The metallic embossing of the butterflies is pretty and vacant. But why butterflies? As a salesman might say, they are a Hirst “signature” image. They just signify Hirst. Grafted on to a cliched love heart, the effect is inane. So this is what the last stale extreme of cynicism looks like.
The sad thing is that I cannot picture anyone having any fun in the production of these cold hearts. The joy of looking at art comes partly from the joy we sense in its making. A Jackson Pollock drip is the preserved relic of a man dancing and swerving around his canvas, flicking paint to the music of Sidney Bechet. The only image these prints create is of Hirst giving instructions to his underlings to make them. The only personal touch is his signature.
And yet, there was once a Damien Hirst who seemed to be having fun. The artist who posed for magazine pictures, chainsaw in hand, about to saw a cow in half, 20 years ago, when he won the Turner prize. The little multiple sculptures in this exhibition are sad reminders of the shock-horror power his real sculptures once had. There are pathetic pink love heart sweets turned into hackneyed art objects. Most melancholic of all, there is a heart in a jar pierced by a crossbow bolt.
It is not a real heart, only a lump of red resin, a silly souvenir of the young artist who once put a lamb in a vitrine to create a kind of poetry.
Did Hirst think, when he won the Turner prize, that his obsession with death and with finding a common artistic language for the most basic human feelings would bring him to this? Two decades on, he is a grim commercial artist who seems happy to trade on his name and back catalogue in this lazy way.
No artist has ever been ruined by money quite as spectacularly as Hirst has. Andy Warhol called himself a “business artist”, but it was only half true – he was just as much a religious artist who secretly worked in soup kitchens, went to mass regularly and whose final masterpiece was a series of paintings of The Last Supper. Jeff Koons got tangled up in love and child custody disputes and seems to mean something personal when he makes outsized monuments to childhood. These fellow pop artists are idealistic dreamers compared with Hirst. He alone is truly and abjectly an artist of money.
It surely says a lot about modern Britain that we have produced the most cash-obsessed artist ever to get taken seriously. Hirst is a businessman pure and simple. He is not an artist any more. He paints for a hobby – those apparently sincere paintings he does in his shed. Meanwhile, he markets his brand, as he does so ruthlessly here. Future generations will wonder what sort of society threw up this caricature of a great artist, and their conclusions are unlikely to be kind.
• Damien Hirst Love is at the Paul Stopler gallery, London WC1, until 21 February.
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