The new Damien Hirst exhibition opened at Tate Modern last week. In hindsight, maybe it was a mistake to try and go on a bank holiday weekend, because the queues turned out to be worse than that time I went to David Hockney at the Royal Academy.
In fact, it took two attempts to get in. My first try was on Good Friday, when I joined the back of the longest queue I’ve ever seen for the Turbine Hall ticket desk. I got to the front 30 minutes later only to find that the next entry time on sale was for 7pm. A five-hour wait in the middle of touristville didn’t appeal, so I bought a ticket for the next day instead and returned at midday on Saturday.
That was when I realised my second mistake of the weekend: Hirst and hangovers do not mix. I had gone to bed at 5am that morning and after cycling to the Tate my energy levels were already flagging. Things were about to get much worse. First, the installation that consisted of two large glass cubes buzzing with flies, the floor coated with hundreds of fly corpses had me feeling pretty nauseous. ‘It’s making my skin crawl,’ agreed someone nearby. Next, a giant ash tray filled with hundreds of cigarette butts, the stale fag smell permeating throughout the room, made my headache ten times as bad. I had to dash through the room of rotating motion sickness-inducing multicoloured Spin Paintings, and by the time I’d gone through the bright, humid, heated room filled with live butterflies I thought I was going to faint. Oh, and there was a queue for that too.
If I hadn’t felt so rough I think I would have enjoyed it all, and there was plenty that I did like in fact. I thought Hirst was basically just about paintings of spots and animals suspended in formaldehyde but there was way more on offer, spanning more than 25 years and starting with work he completed as a student at Goldsmiths. Hirst admits he’s preoccupied with death and the way that medicine is used to try and prolong life: ‘You can only cure people for so long and then they’re going to die anyway,’ he said. In Pharmacy (1992) Hirst recreated an entire pharmacy, the walls lined with cabinets full of drugs. Later, he created huge mirrored frames filled with row upon row of pharmaceutical pills. Lullaby (2002), in which the soft colours of the pills are reminiscent of the famous Spot Paintings, I found quite mesmerising.
As well as the main exhibition, Hirst’s famous blinged up skull is on show in the Turbine Hall and admission for that is free. For the Love of God (2007) is a platinum cast embedded with 8,601 diamonds, estimated in value at £50 million. It occurred to me that in the minute or so you spend looking at it, that’s probably more diamonds than you’re going to see up close in the rest of your life time. But you’ll have to queue to do that as well.
The Damien Hirst exhibition at Tate Modern runs from 4 April to 9 September 2012. Tickets are £14 with concessions available. Visit the Tate website for more information and to book tickets.
Click on the photos below to enlarge them.