Feb 08 2012

Around the World in 331 Spot Paintings

by Hanae Ko

DAMIEN HIRST, Moxisylyte, 2008-11, household gloss on canvas, 205.7 × 129.5 cm. Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates. Copyright Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Installation view of “Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011,” Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, 2012. Photo by Martin Wong. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Ian Tang, Yu Mingfang, Zeng Fanzhi, Dai Wenbin and Xi Li at the opening of “Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011,” Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, 2012. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. 

Installation view of “Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011,” Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, 2012. Photo by Martin Wong. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Do you have plans to be in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Athens, Geneva and Hong Kong in the upcoming two weeks? If the answer is yes—as in, “yes, I will be in all those places”—then this is the event for you. 

To coincide with its current multi-venue Damien Hirst exhibition, “The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011,” Gagosian Gallery is hosting an intercontinental campaign in which visitors can win a signed print, featuring a personalized dedication by the British artist. Dubbed “The Complete Spot Challenge,” it requires participants to visit all 11 Gagosian galleries while the shows are still running. 

After registering on the website, participants are given a card, which they can have stamped at each of the locations. According to the Challenge Update on the Gagosian website, 19 participants have completed the challenge so far, including Valentine Uhovski, socialite founder of the online art bulletin Art Ruby, Jeff Chu, a journalist for the business magazine Fast Company and Tan Wong, founder of art blog Arrested Motion

The actual exhibition features 331 works in total, from the first spot painting that Hirst created in 1986 to the most recent piece completed in 2011. The latter work contains 25,781 spots, each just one millimeter in diameter, with no color ever repeated. No doubt, by the end of your dotty Hirst World Tour, you too will be seeing spots.  

In January, ArtAsiaPacific attended the exhibition opening in Hong Kong, which saw heavy traffic to Gagosian’s new premises in the historic Pedder Building. Proving this is not an idle challenge: entering the gallery, visitors are immediately met by gallerinas on standby to stamp participants’ Complete Spot Challenge cards. The main gallery showcases—you guessed it—a universe of spotty paintings, of all shapes and sizes. At the opening, the space quickly became filled with fashionistas, collectors, art lovers and expats—but, alas, the blue-chip maestro had a spot of work elsewhere. Hirst was on the other side of the globe, at the simultaneous New York opening. One Gagosian artist who was spotted in attendance, is Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi, best known for his “Mask Series” (1994-2001)—one of which sold for a record-setting $9.7 million at Christie’s in 2008.

During the course of the evening, I was stopped by a fellow visitor—a self-described casual gallery-goer—who soon addressed the polka-dotted elephant in the room: “What is the significance of these paintings of dots that all look so alike?”

The simple, cynical answer is that they are by Damien Hirst—once (some may say still) the enfant terrible of the contemporary art world. Hirst, who is lauded for his work as a Young British Artist, has also attracted criticism for mass-producing and over-commercializing his work. For instance, the vast majority of the current exhibition’s works were created by an army of assistants, which some may argue is the reason these works, and this exhibition, should not be commanding the attention they do. 

Ironically, Hirst’s artistic process, involving such a cast of assistants, is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this potentially vacuous series. The thousands and thousands of dots are, in fact, colored enamel discs that have been applied to white canvases in grid form, with the space between each dot equal to the diameter of one disc. As it turns out, the dots are not “all the same,” with their size ranging from one millimeter to over one-and-a-half meters in diameter, and the paintings spanning from two-and-a-half centimeters to over 12 meters across. The people assigned to making each painting chose the color of its dots, which Hirst specified could be of any hue, so long as none were repeated on the same canvas. The result is a formulaic randomness that is at times vapid, but also possesses a sense of incidental rhythm and enjoyable variety, which would perhaps not exist had the paintings been created by the artist alone. 

And despite using his skilled hive to create the majority of the works, Hirst speculates that there are around five pieces, of the 331 paintings featured in Gagosian exhibitions, which were (drum roll please)—personally made by him. For those who won’t be up to par for the international Complete Spot Challenge, may we suggest the single-venue event: “Spot the Hirst original.”