Shock of the New

Denver gets dibs on Damien Hirst.

Though Damien Hirst was on her radar well before he sold a lot of art for nearly $41 million at Sotheby’s in September, departing MCA director and curator Cydney Payton says the time is right to be showing the controversial British artist’s large-scale works in Denver. It’s his moment out in the art world, and we’ve got him in the midst of that notoriety: A blockbuster collection of Hirst pieces, which went on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver earlier this week, will be feted during a reception tonight from 6 to 10 p.m. And it’s Payton’s last show in her current capacity at MCA, a fine testament to 25 or more years in the curating business.

Chock-full of compelling works, including intricate, mandala-like paintings pieced together with butterfly wings and carefully arranged medicine cabinets, it bears an astonishing presence, as if Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” and Rauschenberg’s “Monogram” had somehow merged and multiplied into a roomful of fetishistic objects. And the centerpiece of the show, “Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain,” can’t be fully appreciated through words, or even from a photo: A ten-foot-tall glass case containing a steer pierced by arrows, tethered to a steel column and preserved in formaldehyde, it’s a work to be reckoned with. “It’s so compelling and tender at the same time,” Payton says. “It imparts a sense of elegance and repulsion intertwined. For museum audiences, it represents a chance to talk multi-generationally about issues of morality and the big questions: who we are, where we come from and what we’re doing here.” Thanks for the memories, Cydney. This is one hell of a career-topper.

But don’t take our word for it: The exhibit continues through next August at the MCA, 1485 Delgany Street. For information, log on to www.mcadenver.org or call 303-298-7554.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Oct. 7. Continues through Aug. 30, 2008

 
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