Spots and shadows

9 Jun

Finally visited the Kusama exhibition at the Tate last week and while I was at it I also bought a timed ticket to see Damien Hirst. There were similarities:

  • They both like spots
  • They both use repetition

    Kusama Painting

    Kusama Painting (Photo credit: marttj)

  • They are both obsessed with death

Six reasons why you might prefer Kusama:

  • You can see that Kusama can paint – the early water colours are detailed, intricate and richly coloured
  • Kusama is not the richest artist in the world
  • Kusama seems more interested in sex – some of her paintings resemble spermatozoa; some of her sculptures resemble phalluses and she used to organize naked happenings in New York
  • Dead cows  and discs composed of dead flies make you feel queasy
  • You have a passion for sticky labels
  • Kusama has fewer assistants; she has been extraordinarily productive all her life. When she was nearly 23 she had her first solo exhibition at the First Community Centre in Matsumoto: just 7 months later she had a second solo show and exhibited more than 250 works

Six reasons why you might prefer Hirst:

  • You don’t like flies and you enjoy seeing them zapped
  • You like your dots in different colours: Kusama uses a limited palette for her dots: in Hirst’s dot paintings each of the trademark circles are a different colour even if there are over a thousand of them
  • You like to see inside animals
  • You don’t like sharks
  • You do like butterflies and hope that one might land on you.
  • You enjoyed playing doctors and nurses when you were a child and the pharmacy series makes you feel nostalgic
  • You suffer from vertigo and Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored room makes you feel queasy

In the Kusama exhibition to stop members of the public getting too close to the artwork there is a bleeper which sounds off when you step across an invisible beam. It sounds all the time.

In the Hirst exhibition there are attendants who tell you that you cannot go through that doorway or not to touch the artwork; they sound off quite a bit as well.

There is a room in the Hirst exhibition which has two large rotating circles which have clearly been covered with paint as they rotate; they could  symbolize the rotating world – or maybe shit hitting the fan, then maybe not. In the centre there is a large beach ball which is supposed to be suspended in a jet of air except that it has slipped and remains earthbound. I give it a surreptitious poke to see if I can push back into the airstream. I would like to see it hover. It doesn’t work but I am spotted.

Beautiful revolving sphincter, oops brown pain...

 Damien Hirst (2003) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Don’t touch the artwork” an attendant says.

“It’s not artwork; it’s a beachball” I think.

But that is heresy; I am an art student not a Daily Mail reader.  So instead, I say “it is not working”. She agrees it is not. We both look at the beached beach ball glumly.

As you may have guessed I thought Kusama was by far the greater artist. The infinity mirrored room, her latest work, not only made you reflect upon the vastness of space but also suggested the business of the city and the smallness of the individual. It was also very beautiful.  In contrast Hirst’s spots appeared repetitious and actually somewhat boring. There were so many of them – both spots and paintings of spots. They do not pass the “I want one of those test” – except of course if I had one, I could sell it. Then I didn’t really see the point of Gerhard Richter’s colour charts and he was doing those twenty years earlier.

Queuing For the Love of God

To my surprise I was impressed by one of Hirst’s most controversial works, the diamond incrusted skull, For the Love of God. From photographs I had thought if looked naff; the publicity surrounding the value of the diamonds and the sale price of the work had compounded this. It is displayed at the Tate not as part of the main exhibition but in a darkened room within the Turbine Hall;  the diamonds sparkle. The skull itself looks small and vulnerable and you cannot help but reflect on the fragility of life. The exhibition ends on September 9 . It is worth a visit even though you have to queue; the shadows kept me entertained for the quarter of an hour wait.

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