On a whim, I went to the Damien Hirst exhibition yesterday at the Tate Modern. I approached it with an open mind and had not read any reviews and it provoked some interesting reactions in me. I'm glad I went - and I'd recommend the experience to others, but ... where do I begin? I started with the diamond-encrusted skull - For the Love of God - which is buried in a velvety black space that reminded me of going to gawp at Lenin's tomb in Moscow. The visitor tiptoes through curtains and into a dark room, guided by a man with a torch, towards the head, which is small and underlit and made me think of a very old man propped on a pillow. It glints with a grim jollity in the danse macabre tradition - and that joyfulness was touching, enhanced by the camp, glittery diamonds, but apart from that it was all shock and statement, like a blown up paper bag popped in your face. I went back to look at it again, later, having learnt about it in a financial context. Viewed for a second time, through the prism of knowing it is 'worth' £50 million - a hospital ward ? - a library ? - it became a symbol of something more grotesque and indulgent. It was post-modern Emperor's New Clothes, and that eelish grin showed it knew it. Again and again I got the feeling Hirst makes art like this because he goddam can and, yes, he has earned the right - society has given him this Midas power - let's not blame the individual. For me, though, the skull's beauty and fascination lay in the nasal cavities (so that's what you feel when you pick your nose!) and the planes of the teeth. On to the Butterfly room, where the creatures feed, pupate and die in a sort of Dionysian frenzy - and this was good, I liked the way it went beyond the 'looking and interacting with wildlife' tradition of the nature reserve - into a darker encounter with sex and death. A butterfly landed on my hand as I walked round and I watched its tatty wings flutter and its proboscis threaten to uncoil and probe me (!) until a 'gallery attendant' bustled over and picked it up by the wings. I wanted to say 'you're hurting it, you're smudging its scales' but of course it wasn't about that at all - and I liked that dissonance. The creatures lay drunk in bowls of fruit, leaking body fluids in ambers and yellows in streaks down the walls. Their randomness and definition were far more interesting than the spot paintings..or the cigarettes and gems from other rooms which were repetitiously arranged like an unravelled genetic code, both soulless and boring. Another room is a simulacra of a pharmacy - and yes, there is something tender again in the gathering together, the attention. But it is too big, too loud and too obvious, somehow. Go to an old lady's mantelpiece, and look at the pictures of school children smiling out; long since grown, the pill bottles with their graphic labels, the Christmas cards and what he is saying is already there, in its truest state. Hirst is, I guess, part of our cultural lexicon, and bigger than himself, like Kate Moss or Monroe. I don't really understand the attribution of financial worth to art - but I feel his ideas in this show are no more poignant and profound than those anyone with their eyes open can encounter most days. There were delicate, nebulous touches, but mostly they are flattened under consumer-mammon. I love the ping-pong in quivering suspension over the hairdryer. But how apt and apposite that after leaving the last room of the exhibition, you are directed into a giant Hirst shop, full of reproductions, where you, too, can get a bit of Damien, and tell your friends you've "done him" like people "do" Rome in a day, ticking the boxes on life-long to-do lists and acquiring cultural experiences like currency.


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