Art and Myth: Damien Hirst and Pablo Picasso

Wendy and I had a trip to Venice recently as we were invited to a concert by some wonderful singers and pianists who were part of the Georg Solti Accademia.
We arrived a day early so that we could go and see Damien Hirst’s monumental exhibition, “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” at the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana. Wendy and I are both ex art students – of course you are never an “ex” art student – what’s happening in the visual world is a perennial obsession. And, even if you are not making “art” per se – the world of art is a continuing reference point or at the very least a curious place to revisit. So given the opportunity we go and see it (Art) whenever we can.

You can be unsure about the work of Damien – it would be foolish to be otherwise – because part of his shtick is to kid us, to dupe us, to lead us up his particular garden path into his own obsessions with death, life, his own myths. And so it is with, “The Wreck”. On a monumental and incredibly detailed scale he has created a mythical world which he describes here as a museum exhibit. The residue of an ancient society, its religions, coinage, weaponry and beliefs are painstakingly and, it has to be said, beautifully constructed. A narrative in video shows us the discovery of this hoard. Scuba divers uncovering barnacle-encased statues further enhance Hirst’s self-made “reality”. It’s all a lie, but one that sucks you into its universe like a Ray Harryhausen film.


Occasionally Damien’s guard drops deliberately, to let some twentieth century light in. Some of the mythological beings encased in barnacles look like Mickey Mouse or Goofy and one is Damien himself, half-covered in coral and described as “the collector”. Hirst has had lots of bad press but this show is truly impressive, partly because of the scale of intent but it also makes us think about our own society, our icons, our beliefs and for God’s sake… our politics… and how it might be viewed when we are discovered, encrusted in barnacles (or nuclear dust) after many millennia.

Back in London we go to see, “Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors” at Gagosian’s swish gallery in Mayfair. Here we rub shoulders with what appear to be the casually dressed minted. But in the dimly lit galleries are some extraordinary paintings, lithographs, etchings, ceramics and sculptures by the great man. I am always bowled over by Pablo’s ability to explore an idea into the ground and his sheer technical mastery, not just of the pencil and brush but how he can make his imagery connect with us. Like Damien’s, Picasso’s work also portrays his own mythical world, his relationships and the narratives within them. Others have talked about Picasso’s terrible behaviour towards women, but surely few artists have exposed themselves in such a raw and uncompromising way. In many of the works Picasso appears to be the bull or the minotaur engaged with women – the scenes are frightening, nightmare-like; the old boy doesn’t come out of it well, despite the beauty of the execution.

Again in the Gagosian show, we see that Picasso created ceramics and votive-like objects that supported his central myths. It was only while walking away to my bicycle in Berkeley Square that I thought of the Damien “Wreck” show and the similarities between the two artists and their intent.



Michael 9/5/17

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