"It's dead" a little blonde haired girl points at Damien Hirst's formaldehyde preserved sheep Away from the Flock which is currently on show at the Tate Modern. Kids are used to seeing animals at the petting zoo, cute fluffy and smelling all sawdusty and licking your hand as you feed them a carrot, not seeing sort of rotting, sliced in half carcases with misty eyes.
Damien Hirst's first extensive show in London is a good way to introduce to children - in a fun and colourful way - that things die. That's what the show is about, life cycles, life and death whether it's a that of a sheep, butterflies or the human race.
"Why does he like to kill things?"
I overhear a young boy ask his father: "Why does he like to kill things?" Good question. Hirst's works are designed to shock you; on an anthropological level: hundreds of pills all lined up, dead cows and sharks; on a visual level: a cows head bleeding over the floor of one of Tate's galleries, goodness knows how they're going to get rid of that stain; but the thing that brings you back, stops you from going off into a day-dreamy-gallery-browsing world is the smell. Oh my god it smells. The mixture of animal head and something else you can't quite put your finger on until you turn the corner of room nine and a hot tub sized ash tray reveals itself. I just couldn't go any further, stale cigarettes and ash is one of the WORST smells.
|Photo courtesy Chloé Nelkin|
The boys father replies "no they're already dead," as if to legitimise Hirst's actions. As if putting all these things in jars or in a room together were his only part in their process, he has not killed these cows, fish or sheep, smoked the cigarettes or been prescribed the drugs, indeed he's probably not even painted half the spot paintings on display. But that doesn't mean that it can't be appreciated for what it is: one man who saw an opportunity to transform, at least in part, the way the art industry works, and took it. He made it into a business, he found what works, what sells and replicated it.
Everything you'd expect to be in the show is. So those looking for the shark, the spot paintings and his pharmaceutical works will not be disappointed. There's even a room filled with live butterflies flying about and landing on people with brightly coloured trousers. Again, a great for attraction for children.
Damien Hirst is on show at the Tate Modern until September 9, 2012. Follow the link to book your tickets