Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage payments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchased in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose D.I.Y. and wonder who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning...but why would I want to do a thing like that?
The philosopher Andy Warhol once wrote that Modernity was all about making choices. Making choices and liking things. Campbell’s soup, tuna fish, movie stars, transvestites, drugs, and male hustlers were all bound together. Choose the one you like best. Individually or in endless combinations. Damien Hirst’s art, and in particular his Spot Paintings, realize this philosophy and, in fact, may be the end-game of painting that the artist Andy Warhol strove to achieve. The Complete Spot Paintings are presented at all eleven of Gagosian’s locations simultaneously and feature more than 300 individual works, from the first spot on a board that Hirst created in 1986 to the most recent work (painted by a huge team of assistants) in 2011. We are given a survey of spots in myriad sizes, from the smallest Spot Painting comprising half a spot and measuring 1 ´1 1/2 inches (1996), to a work of monumental spottiness comprised of only four spots, each 60 inches in diameter. The most recent painting (the one completed in 2011) contains 25,781 spots that are each 1 millimeter in diameter -- with no single color ever repeated. This fact must be taken on trust, as such chromatic analysis is impossible in situ.
Unusual for exhibitions, gift shops are located within the Gagosian’s 24th Street and Madison Avenue galleries. Whether meant to take the piss or not, it is both a witty commentary on “moving merch” by the former iconoclast from Leeds and a way of making additional, and seemingly endless, Spot Paintings. Spot key chains. Spot wallets. Spot cuff links. Spot handbags. Spot clocks. Spot coffee cups. Stick-on spots....
As much of a visual and technical achievement as the exhibition is, there is one Spot Painting missing -- perhaps Hirst’s most ambitious. The Beagle 2 was a British space project that formed part of the Mars Express mission in 2003. On board the landing vehicle was a Spot Painting. In an effort to publicize the project, its designers sought and received the endorsement and participation of several British artists. Damon Albarn and the band Blur composed the call sign. Hirst’s gold-plated Spot Painting was to double as the “test card” (calibration target plate) intended for color calibrating the Beagle 2’s cameras and spectrophotometers once it was placed on the Mars surface. Although the Beagle 2 craft was successfully deployed from the Mars Express “mothership” on December 25, confirmation of a successful landing was not received. In the days following, the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank also failed to pick up a signal from Beagle 2. Attempts to locate the lander continued through February 2004, using the Mars Express transmissions. Although regular calls continued to be made, they went unanswered. The possibility of connecting to the lander rested on February 2, the date when the Beagle 2 was pre-programmed to expect the Mars Express probe to fly overhead and revert to Autotransmit, the last communication back-up mode. No communication was established with Beagle 2. The Beagle 2 was officially declared lost on February 6, 2004. All hope for interplanetary Spot Paintings ended.
I could offer a million reasons, all false. The truth is I’m a bad person. But that’s gonna change. I’m gonna change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now I’m cleaning up and moving on. Going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. - Bradley Rubenstein
Image: © Damien Hirst/ Science Ltd, 2012
Photography Prudence Cuming Associates
The Gagosian Gallery is at 980 Madison Avenue, 555 West 24th Street, and 522 West 21st Street in New York City through February 18, 2012; at 456 North Camden Drive in Beverly Hills, California through February 10; at 3 Merlin Street in Athens, Greece and at Via Francesco Crispi 16 in Rome, Italy through March 10; at 6-24 Britannia Street and 17-19 Davies Street in London, England, at 4 Rue de Ponthieu in Paris, France, and at 7/F, 12 Pedder Street in Hong Kong through February 18; and at 19 Place de Longemalle in Geneva, Switzerland through March 17.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.