Dr. Damien Hirst or: How I Learned to Stop Grouching and Love the Spot Paintings (Almost)

01.17.12 Marina Galperina

Damien Hirst’s Spot Paintings have been relentlessly hated on by my art blogger comrades, so, for purely empirical purposes, I decided to go to see them in person and… uhh… be open to them. But first, I had to somehow purge myself of anger and that unceasing belief that Mr. Hirst is kind of a shit and his spots are nothing but bombastic, colorful turdlets. And so, I made merry with my temporary displacement in California and reaped the medical perks, hint cough hint.

Off to the gallery I wobbled, friend in tow… Success?

Blazingly pure at heart and light of mind — upon Hirst’s own suggestion — we walked up to the glass Gagosian palace. It stood in one of LA’s wealthiest districts, the kind where anachronistically uniformed doormen flank each glass alcove. We were ready for our totally subjective personal experience, forgoing art history, art criticism, the thousand things I don’t like about Hirst and that one thing I like… and forgetting the background of this 11-gallery, 8-city, 3-continent, all-spot exhibition extravaganza.

“Really?” my comrade laughed as we strutted into the first room, spruced up with the most opulent wallpaper art. “Really,” I sighed, settling in under the giant canvas of his royal dottiness for a long stare, with immediate theories. “They’re acid blotters!.. Scratch ‘n’ sniff?.. Lick ’em. You gotta lick ’em, ha.”

Minutes passed and giddiness ebbed and so did that initial, familiar choke-up of Hirst-induced vomit. I waited for the dizzying, perception-altering sensations almost all art critics mentioned mid-rant last week. There they kind of were. Each dot sprouted a thin, jittery aura, begging for order. My eyes played Whack-a-Mole, looking for the reddest, the greenest, all the red, all the pink as the rest vibrated eclipsed in black, the lightest dissolved away, the darkest charred holes and the pattern blistered with an electric shadow of itself. It was sharp, like a knife, stabbing the squeaky white halls until varied-colored dots bled out, uniformly. They looked just like peeling stickers, sliding off the canvas edge, which was particularly dangerous for the giant, me-sized dots on the canvas behind me. I sailed to the back and the dots didn’t get bigger — I got smaller. I don’t know if Hirst had consciously pre-programmed this brain-play. Maybe? Being exhibited together in a gallery — like in a kind of two-dimensional alien zoo — the spot paintings did gain something in comparison to each other. Something or other.

Just when I started feeling dumb from the dumb fun — and viciously self-conscious because I just noticed Jeffrey Deitch — a sweetly-smiling older gent of a gallery guard walked up, pointed at my red notebook and asked “School homework assignment?” in a honeyed, Herzogian lilt. “…Yes? Yeah. Were there a lot of people here today?” “Oh yes, we rarely see so many people in the daytime.” I found another guard: “Were there a lot of kids here today?” “Yeah, there were a lot of kids. They loved this — the colors.”

“I want to climb them,” my friend roared at the giant ones, and as I got ready to scoff, I saw a small herd of children frolicking about, a mother snagging a tiny giggly one away just as she was about to paw that big circle, the circle looking so juicy and so tasty. The kid got it! Wait. Did I just get it? Were these… nice?

My friend was squinting inquisitively at a medium-sized canvas. “What are you thinking?” She’s been to all the downtown art galleries, but never to one in Beverly Hills. She’s recently picked up woodblock printing and functional crafts. Now she was trying to give Hirst a chance. “I’m trying to imagine what he was thinking, feeling when painting each of these dots.” Once I told her he didn’t paint these dots, there was no starting over. She rattled off righteous exclamations about Hirst’s “amazing privilege… and he uses it to ‘make’ these?” I gave the swindle theory another thought — that there’s a reason for this crushing absence of “meaning,” that Hirst’s only “meaning” is in the jollies that the formerly blue collar Brit gets from peddling pretend-art to eternally-rich patrons for up to $3.48 million a pop. Wouldn’t that be grand?

As the gallery closed and we were politely shoo-ed out like the kids we were feeling we were, familiar tension thumped in my gut and crept up my throat. Just as it was about to fly out of my mouth as a comfortably biting bleat about hype, heists and hustles, it melted, ending in a bemused grunt. It was ok. That day, in my happy haze, it was ok.

(Photos: ANIMALNewYork)