Damien Hirst at the Wallace

Damien Hirst has returned to actually painting his own paintings, and he has decided to show his new series of 25 works created between 2006 and 2008, “No Love Lost”, within the lavish surroundings of London’s Wallace Collection this autumn.

The museum is continuing its policy of staging temporary exhibitions of contemporary art within its wide-ranging historical collection (including works by Titian, Rembrandt and Velázquez, as well as mediaeval and Renaissance objects). The series begun with a show of photographer Karen Knorr in 2001. Since then Lucian Freud exhibited a series of paintings in 2004, and in 2006 there was a show of Sèvres porcelain designed by Louise Bourgeois and others. There is also an artist-in-residency scheme, currently occupied by artist and goldsmith Kevin Coates.

Hirst’s love of skulls and butterflies shows no signs of abating in this series of memento mori works, with pieces such as the triptych The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, 2008, depicting skulls suspended within webs of faint white lines on dark backgrounds, one with a menacing shark’s jaw in the centre. Another, Requiem, White Roses and Butterflies, 2008, shows a still life of roses in a vase, with butterflies radiating outwards, again interweaved within a network of faint lines, while a vibrant lemon punctuates the darkness in Skull with Ashtray and Lemon, 2006/07. All have a prominent blue palette—the series was originally titled “The Blue Paintings”.

“Showing Damien Hirst’s work at the Wallace Collection presents an opportunity for our regular visitors to see our collections in a different light—passing from our galleries of 17th- and 18th-century works to one of contemporary painting,” says Wallace Collection director Rosalind Savill. “Naturally there will be a lot of interest in this new work resulting in many visitors coming to the Wallace Collection for the first time.” The two upper galleries where Hirst’s work will be shown have been closed for some time as part of the museum’s ongoing refurbishment programme, so no works will need to be displaced for the exhibition—no doubt a relief to some of the collection’s more conservative visitors. For Hirst’s show the galleries will be hung with French silks woven in Prelles, to match the wall coverings hanging in the Oval Drawing Room, “ensuring the galleries are an extension of the intimate, luxurious atmosphere of the Wallace Collection”, says Savill.

Hirst, who is curating the exhibition himself, clearly relishes the opportunity to validate this new vein of work within such a rich art historical setting. “I like John Ruskin’s idea of art, that there’s an unbroken line all the way back to the cavemen, and we are just the most recent additions,” he states, in typically demure mode.

This article was published in The Art Newspaper, October 2009, p75. To see it in context, click on the PDF link below.

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