Making Sense of Damien Hirst's Spot-Painting Spectacular

Mr. Hirst. (Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images)

Hot on the heels of Jori Finkel’s Los Angeles Times article about Damien Hirst’s upcoming show of “Spot” paintings at all 11 Gagosian branches, The New York Times‘ Carol Vogel is out with her own report on the spot spectacular. After reading it, Gallerist is a bit confused.

Ms. Vogel tells us that, “right before” Mr. Hirst’s single-artist auction at Sotheby’s London in September 2008 (which made a crisp $200 million), the artist “proclaimed the end of those abstract canvases of candy-color dots.” (That month, Ms. Vogel reported that there “would be… almost no dot paintings.”)

Which, as far as we can determine, is not the case.

As we noted yesterday, he told Bloomberg in August 2008, a month before the sale, “The spots are going to stay, I’m going to carry on doing those.” (Work in the show is dated through 2011.)

Furthermore, Sarah Thornton noted in The Art Newspaper in October 2008 that “in the lead up to the… sale, Hirst declared his intent to quit spins and butterflies (but not spots).” (Though he did apparently quit making spin paintings, Mr. Hirst offered a demonstration of their production at a panel hosted by collector Victor Pinchuk in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year.)

Of course, Ms. Thornton noted at the time that Mr. Hirst said in 2004, four years before the Sotheby’s sale, “I am trying to end the series… I am going to stop the butterfly paintings, the spot paintings and the spin paintings.” Perhaps he meant that he was going to stop temporarily, for just a moment or two.

But other discrepancies lingered, after setting the two reports side by side.

It seemed unclear, for example, how many paintings are in Gagosian’s 11-venue exhibition. The Los Angeles Times says that the shows will include “about 300 paintings” while The New York Times puts the count at “about 200 works.” A representative at Gagosian confirmed that the show will feature about 300. (The show is billed as “Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011,” and a complete catalogue of the spot works is being readied, though 300 is only a fraction of the 1,400 that the artist says he has made will actually be shown.)

Additionally, there is vagueness in the matter of how many of the works on view will be for sale. “More than half will be loans,” and “the rest is for sale,” The Los Angeles Times reports, while The New York Times goes with this wording: “less than one-third of the show will be for sale.”

Given the worry Mr. Hirst has sometimes provoked over the voluminous production of his most coveted lines, these would seem to be important details to nail down. The Gagosian representative we spoke with stated that “less than a third” of the paintings–probably less than 100 paintings, in other words–will be on offer.

And, at the risk of quibbling, The New York Times‘ indication that the exhibition runs “through Feb. 18” is not quite accurate. Gagosian’s branches in Rome and Athens will keep the show on view through March 10, and Beverly Hills is closing early, on Feb. 10.

But perhaps we will see an end to the spot paintings after all. Here is Museum of Modern Art curator Ann Temkin in the catalogue of the 2008 exhibition “Color Chart”:

“[Hirst] nurtures a fantasy of an exhibition that would unite dozens of the paintings in one place, an event that at long last would fully reveal the nightmarish character of the project. And only then, he says, would he decide that it was time to stop making them.”

Making Sense of Damien Hirst's Spot-Painting Spectacular