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Damien Hirst’s Requiem shocks Kiev

12 June 2009

This summer sees a of Damien Hirst -the most popular brand of today's art scene and the symbol of contemporary British art- open in Kiev under the title of Requiem. The show comprises over a hundred works. This seems to be the most extensive representation of Hirst's art, tracing his career from the 1990s to the present day. You can view it at the PinchukArtCentre until September 20, 2009.

The exhibition promises to be jam-packed with textbook phenomena of contemporary art, including A Thousand Years, Death Explained and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living -the famous shark preserved in formaldehyde that brought Hirst the 1995 Turner Prize.

Since April 25, when the show opened, a "healthy, hungry audience for art and all types of culture in the Ukraine", to quote Hirst's own words, visited the PinchukArtCentre. Requiem is not just the end but the beginning. Not just the epitome of life but hope for the future. After night comes a new dawn. A new page follows the one before. "I believe that Damien Hirst continues to push and challenge boundaries with his creativity. Requiem opens a new chapter for him. We see a different Hirst our midst," says Victor Pinchuk.

Indeed, since the start of his career, Hirst has pushed the boundaries of art and what it means to be an artist. Requiem bears witness to a bold new direction in his work by showing for the first time a series of skull paintings he created between 2006 and 2008. In works such as Floating Skull, 2006, The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, 2008 and Men Shall Know Nothing, 2008, Hirst returns to the solitary practice of painting and confronts, in very personal terms, the darkness that lies at the heart of human nature and experience.

Requiem brings together many of the artist's most celebrated works. Ranging from early iconic sculptures such as A Thousand Years, 1990 and Away from the Flock, 1994 to more recent works like the monumental butterfly triptych, Doorways to the Kingdom of Heaven, 2007, the exhibition shows the extraordinary breadth of Hirst's artistic enterprise.

Everything we have known until now about Damien Hirst as an artist has been based upon the knowledge that, in a stroke of genius at the beginning of his career, he successfully combined seemingly irreconcilable artistic strategies and created a perfectly functioning system of production. This has meant a marriage between conceptual distance and the emotional brutality of fragments of reality, making possible a studio capable of putting the artist's ideas into practice even down to the exact placing of the last screw, pill or butterfly.

Within this system the role of the artist has always remained that of the inventor of concepts and ideas and the architect of their implementation through others, even in the most emotional of works. As a result, the potential conflict between emotional embedding and formal completion has always remained under the artist's control, even in works that are pointedly critical. Like Goethe's Faust, Hirst banks on the possibility of mastering both life and the means of production.

In a discussion with the art critic David Sylvester, Francis Bacon once reflected upon the question of why artists approach the same old subjects again and again, when everything has already been said and done by the old masters. According to Bacon the reason for this was that the instincts that led the great masters to their achievements had changed from one generation to the next. All that remained to be done was to express this more clearly, precisely and brutally. Hirst, who clearly regards Bacon as one of the main points of departure for his new paintings, particularly in the triptychs, endeavors with calculated passion to carry out the imperceptible crossing of the borderline to death clearly, precisely and brutally.

As described with such formidable clarity by the works gathered together in Requiem, the visual impact of the art of Damien Hirst is immediate and visceral. The viewer is confronted in each work by the physical representation, or its meticulously honed depiction, of those beliefs, ideas, conditions and institutions which shape the common basis of human experience. Mortality, faith, medicine, religion, wealth and aesthetics comprise the principal themes and subject matter of Hirst's paintings, sculptures and installations. The ceaseless interplay of these fundamental concerns, and their intrinsic relationship to the individual and society, are brought to life in works of exquisite aphoristic refinement as well as graphic violence and sheer spectacle.

As Requiem surveys Hirst's art from the early 1990s to the present, the viewer becomes immediately aware of the biblical scale on which the artist is envisaging his work; in his lucidity no less than his tireless enquiry into the unknowable sleep with which our brief lives are surrounded, Hirst is one of the great religious artists of the modern period. For it is only within the correlation of religion to science, and the rational to the non-rational, that one finds the breadth of speculation through which Hirst relates unwavering realism to cosmic irony, bathos and splendor.

The PinchukArtCentre
The PinchukArtCentre is an institution implemented by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation in the realm of culture. It is one of the largest centers for contemporary art in the Eastern Europe. The key mission of the PinchukArtCentre is to modernize the Ukrainian artistic scene and to promote the development of a new generation of Ukrainian artists. The Centre presents a variety of exhibitions by leading international and Ukrainian artists. Additionally, the PinchukArtCentre organizes varied educational programs and is a platform for support for other cultural projects.