Damien Hirst’s Spots Bore New York Critics


You must have heard about Damien Hirst’s epic art opening in New York last night, yes? Well, the reviews for his spot paintings have been lukewarm at best. So what’s the big deal? They are just spots. Just spots! He didn’t even paint most of them! We think we might have cracked the enigma, but before we share our theory, let’s flashback to 2008, the origin of all this hype: Ridiculously rich celebrity taxidermist Damien Hirst makes a big splash announcing that he will no longer be making “spots.” In two days, Sotheby’s sells hundreds of Hirst’s works for more than $200 million, motivated by the highly advertised extinction of said “spots.” Then, recently, Hirst announces that he is making spots again (ha! gotcha!) and — as “a perfect storm of banality” — Hirst will be exhibiting them simultaneously at all 11 Gagosian galleries in New York, Paris, Athens, Hong-Kong, and so on. He’ll also give a free “spot” work to any ridiculously rich person who visits all 11 shows during the month-long exhibit. Obnoxious, right? Well, here’s what the critics thought.

Kyle Chayka at ArtInfo writes: “… the assembled guests were so few that the sheer profusion of dots in druggy pastels seemed even more overwhelming… The colors are too sickly to be joyful, and the variation from canvas to canvas too woozy to really enjoy… Perhaps the paintings don’t have any meaning, but are simply supports for whatever perspective you bring to them. If you desire them, then they’re either anodyne interior decoration or antidepressants for aimless, postmodern lives. If you’re angry with them, then they’re lifestyle trophies for the rich and symbols of the exploitative one percent. You pick — there’s no wrong answer.”

Michael H. Miller at GalleristNY had this to say: “Mr. Hirst shifted his weight awkwardly on the balls of his feet. He tucked his hands into his pockets. He smiled awkwardly. He pulled up his nostrils into a piggy face and chuckled to himself. He picked subtly at his left ear. [He posed for press photos.] ‘Good?’ he asked, then walked away. Beyond that, there were a bunch of white canvases in the room with spots on them. There was nothing else worthy of mention.”

Art Fag City’s Paddy Johnson reports that they didn’t even get an invite to the opening, maybe because Will Brand wrote the following on AFC earlier this month: “I’m going to lay this down, just to clarify, so that nobody from the future gets confused: we hate this shit. Everyone hates this shit. These spots reflect nothing about how we live, see, or think, they’re just some weird meme for the impossibly rich that nobody knows how to stop.”

Photo credit: Mary Altaffer, via

So, to sum up, there is nothing really conceptually interesting about these spots unless you project your own meaning unto them, and even Hirst himself appeared bored and a touch smug attending his New York gallery opening. So… do we just not “get” these paintings? Are we philistines? In this blogger’s humble opinion, I think we’re just too sober. It’s no secret that Damien Hirst has partaken — sometimes in excess — in substances of intoxicating properties. And this whole “pharmacy” theme? Doesn’t that just seem like a giant, giant hint? Has anyone ever looked at the spot paintings and was reminded of acid blotting paper? It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that almost everyone who personally attended the “spot” openings and really, really looked at the work experienced dizzying, disorienting, perception-altering, sensation-pleasing moments?

Now, we’re not advocating the use of psychotropic drugs. We wouldn’t do that. But, perhaps to really experience this body of work, you have to first drop your righteous rage about how Hirst’s indentured assistants mass-produce his art and that the diamond-skull-bedazzler is completely out of touch with the 99%. Drop them. Then, open your mind with your lubricant of choice and head over to your nearest Gagosian and look at as many paintings for as long as possible. Let us know if you “get” them.

Main image courtesy of Gallerist NY.