Here’s what I knew going in about the new Damien Hirst exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art: all of the beautiful, artsy people I know in town were beyond geeked about it, Hirst apparently has so much money he can buy a dinosaur, and something about a cow shot the fuck up with arrows. But sometimes being mostly ignorant can be a very good way to go into an art exhibit.
Art has a way of encouraging legend, and if you get too caught up in the legend of the artist, you lose all objectivity. For example, I can’t see a Van Gogh that I don’t like simply because I like the man too much. Of course, Van Gogh was a goddamn genius. But as far as Hirst goes, other than the mad scrilla part, I had no clue. And contemporary art normally makes me want to puke in a cup, then call it contemporary art. So I trotted into the exhibit eyes wide open to take in this Damien Hirst. And there were only four pieces. Four. Short and sweet, eh MCA? All right, Hirst, I thought: Time to blow my argyle socks off. And though my socks weren’t necessarily in tatters upon leaving the show, they certainly were a little looser around the ankles.
The only premier in the exhibit was a piece called "War After War:" butterflies and household glass on canvas, from the collection of the artist himself. Basically two giant red, square panels, one a little darker than the other, with butterflies suspended in paint. Almost as if trapped in blood, the bullshitter, art-history-class-dabbler in me thought -- modern violence swallowing the beauty. Yet the beauty was that much more vivid because of it.
You should have seen some of the shit I got away with in college.
The next piece, "Incorruptible Crown," also features butterflies. These ones were arranged in kaleidoscopic fashion, like some ornate stained-glass piece -- swirl after colorful swirl of repeating, butterfly-wing patterns. Upon closer inspection, I realized that they were actually butterfly wings! Then I realized the piece before this one was, too! At first I figured they were just pieces of paper or something made to look like butterfly wings, but homeboy actually uses butterflies.
"He’s one of the world’s largest importers of butterflies,” Robert, a helpful MCA employee, told me.
Now that’s fucking cool. Hirst is so big he imports butterflies?! Got to like a guy like that.
A piece opposite these was essentially a recreation of a pharmacy wall: shelf after shelf of pills and powders, tonics and elixirs, with the clever title, "Nothing is a Problem for Me." Meh, I thought. Nothing any stoned pill-popper with a penchant for pathos couldn’t come up with.
I save the crown-jewel for last. "Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain" features a slaughterhouse cow (or bullock, as Hirst says) encased in formaldehyde, tied to a pole and shot through with dozens of cross-bow arrows -- a perverse adaptation of the many, many depictions of the Christian martyr Sebastian throughout art history. From that description, you’d think the piece was about as arty and what-the-fuck pretentious as the kid in college with the blazers and the scarves. But it was actually amazing. Nature of what it means to be alive/dead, modern treatment of animals, blah, blah, blah. But what’s really cool is that looking at it, you can’t help but think that sucker’s going to spring to life in some feverish spasm any second, crushing through the glass in a wave of sticky goo, a violent explosion of deranged and furious grunts and shrieks, terrifying enough to send the fat couple with the stupid questions in the room with me at the time screaming out into the streets.
I wandered around the gallery some more after that, tried unsuccessfully to flirt with a hottie in a room of framed photos, then headed out of the MCA, pleased as punch to have checked out some thought-provoking stuff during Denver ArtsWeek and thinking that when I have Hirst-bucks, I’m going to use it to teach a gorilla who knows sign-language how to use a video camera. Then, I’ll re-release him into the wild and have him document his experience. After a month, I will collect the camera -- hopefully not from a pile of blood and mangled gorilla bits as a result of an unsuccessful reintroduction -- edit the footage into a documentary and score the whole thing by Sigur Rós.
Palme d’-fucking Or. -- Adam Cayton-Holland