It’s Time to Stop Talking About Damien Hirst’s Boring Spot Paintings


A year and a half ago, Larry Gagosian used all 11 branches of his eponymous art gallery to exhibit Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. My mom asked me in earnest if anybody actually bought those things. Among critics, she wasn’t alone. That month, opinion after well-informed opinion poured forth about how the paintings were not only bad, but also really, insanely boring. A lot of people whose talents could be profitably spent elsewhere — people who admitted they had nothing to say about the spot paintings — seemed to write about them anyway in part because the excessive, capricious market for Hirst’s work felt like a story in itself, and partly because Hirst’s name is a magnet for controversy.

[Image via Flickr]

This is the only explanation I can gather for The New York Times running an article by Graham Bowley today with the sub-headline: “Damien Hirst has answered a long-running question in the art world: How many of his spot paintings are there, anyway?”

You’ll have to take my word for it: Mr. Bowley, buddy, no one has been asking that question. Or, more precisely, almost no one has been asking that question. For a tiny but discernible group of people, there’s a tiny but discernible news hook in the fact that Hirst’s publisher will soon publish a catalogue raisonné of the spot paintings. Speculator-collectors are probably keen to know that the number of spot paintings out there is finite and countable, since their work is dedicated to predicting the value of a spot painting as a commodity, but speculator-collectors are not “the art world.” They actually represent less than two percent of the art-viewing public.

Outside of the Gagosian, I’ve only seen a spot painting once, and it was in the apartment of someone I already knew to be laughably rich and out of touch. For the rest of us, there’s no controversy, and no story. There’s only offense at the amount of space already taken up by a maker of blatantly vapid paintings that hold very, very little value outside of their status as monetary commodities or meta-statements about overpriced art.

This offense certainly extends to the author of the article, who on this occasion has further inflated the bubble of Hirst hype, and with it, the art market as a whole. Unfortunately, when this much money is spent on a spot painting, it ultimately raises the spending bar for a work of art that doesn’t suck, which a museum may want to acquire, and which the public deserves to see, enjoy, and learn from.

I realize that by writing about it, I might have inadvertently added to that swarm of chatter myself, but given their unique influence and breadth of readership, the Times should really know better.