Damien Hirst vs His Critics: Reviews Round Up

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'Who, me?' Hirst faces his critics
'Who, me?' Hirst faces his critics

Damien Hirst, the original Young British Artist, stages a retrospective at the Tate Modern from the 4th April – 9th September, featuring the infamous classics: dead animals, dots and even live butterflies.

It opens as critic Julian Spalding encourages owners of Hirst’s artworks to sell up as soon as possible, christening them the ‘sub-prime’ of the art world.

HuffPost Culture's own review found Hirst's retrospective severly lacking, arguing that "Hirst only seems to have two subjects: death, and himself. This collection illuminates neither in any truly satisfying way."

But what about the rest of the critical world that Hirst has so often divided?

Richard Dorment for the Telegraph awarded the show four out of five stars, commenting "As an artist his work is indeed difficult to take - not because it is dumb, but because no one in his right mind wants to think about the painful subjects it deals with."

Meanwhile Harry Mountis blog for the same paper was altogether less generous: "The shark, the dots, the packs of pills… They all depend on extremely simple thoughts, which need no explaining, or any knowledge of art history; thus their popular appeal."

The Guardian's Adrian Searle gave the show a lukewarm three out of four, seeing cause to lament Hirst's demise as an artist from his exciting early period. He declares the show a disappointment and writes: "This exhibition charts a great descent in Hirst's art, one that mirrors the ascent of his bankability and the creation of ever more decadent and overblown artefacts."

Over on the Times, Rachel Campbell-Johnston doled out four of the five stars on offer and hailed Hirst as "ground-breaking" because "he captures our consumerist age not by simply making art that is about the market but by quite literally turning the markets into his medium" - read her excellent review in full (if you're behind the pay wall).

Artlyst's Thomas Keane discovered a new depth to Hirst's work after seeing them altogether. "Viewed together in this massive and immersive manner, his works no longer seem like tabloid-courting one-liners; instead they appear as the coherent product of a remarkably lucid practice – of an artist with a clearly-defined visual language," he claims.

Visiting from the US, Martin Gayford from the San Francisco Chronicle was another critic to be withering about Hirst's 'development' as an artist: "It's not that this is a bad exhibition[...] It's just that, on the evidence assembled at Tate Modern, he hasn't had a good new idea in 20 years."

An anonymous commentator for the Evening Standard sees the exhibition as charting Hirst's "descent into repetition and gimmickry", again praising the early work for giving the show a "stirring first half" but disappointing thereafter.

The Independent critic Adrian Hamilton said he would have liked to see more "personal" work from the artist, concluding that the Tate show is a "retrospective that proves [Hirst's] coherence as an artist but not his worth."

Finally, Fisun Güner writing for The Arts Desk was moderately - if not spectacularly - impressed. "Entering it feels like entering a secret parlour at a Victorian freak show, and in a way, what with all the media hoola, this is exactly what this whole show feels like. Still, I’ll contend that not all of it is smoke and mirrors."

All in all, given the unanimously venomous critical reaction to some of Hirst's more recent shows - 2009's foray into painting, No Love Lost, being the obvious example - the World's Richest Artist must be pretty pleased with how he's been received this time around. Either way there's little doubt the visitors - and the banknotes - will arrive in huge numbers this summer.