Blending Visual Candy and Natural History: Damien Hirst's Latest Exhibition

By Jennifer Sauer - Sunday, December 24, 2017
Blending Visual Candy and Natural History: Damien Hirst's Latest Exhibition

Contrasting the playful against the austere, Visual Candy and Natural History offers just what the exhibition’s title suggests.

Contrasting the playful against the austere, Visual Candy and Natural History offers just what the exhibition’s title suggests. This selection of paintings and sculptures by Damien Hirst combines two, vastly different bodies of work he created in the early to mid '90’s. Stirred with Hirst’s intelligence and notorious dark wit, this exhibit merges the saccharin sweet, Pop Art-Abstract Expressionism of Visual Candy with the stark, clinical Minimalism of Natural History. The latter refers to Hirst's revolutionary sequence of art installations featuring dead animals, often dissected and preserved in formaldehyde, arguably his best-known art genre. The result is a transcendent hybrid that executes what seems conceptually impossible: a seamless integration of these divergent styles into a postmodern artistic moment.

Hirst became well-noted in the late 1980's movement of the Young British Artists (YBA's). He is known for his installations, sculptures, paintings and drawings that explore the complex and intertwined relationships between art, beauty, religion, science, life and death. Hirst's existential approach finds harmony in exploring dualities others may see as disparate: 'I had my stomach pumped as a child because I ate pills thinking they were sweets […] I can’t understand why some people believe completely in medicine and not in art, without questioning either.' [1] A perceptual ease with dichotomy and the creation of boundary-less conceptual works have rendered Hirst with international artistic acclaim.

Visual Candy and Natural History reveals Hirst's sophomore moment in this collective of artworks from the same '90's period. Stylistic differences aside, the two series philosophically intertwine, exploring definitions of pleasure, permanence and reason.  Hirst is fearless in challenging the logic of our contemporary beliefs, imbibing equal credence and weight to the realm of the expressive. Visual Candy is painted in vivid, bold primary and rosy hues of overlapping round and oval contours, or pointillist bursts of vibrant color that divide and fuse with ombre effect. Joyfully titled Happy Happy Happy (1993–94), Wowee Zowee (1993), and Super Silly Fun (1993), Visual Candy bubbles with all things light and whimsical.

Installation view, "DAMIEN HIRST: Visual Candy and Natural History" at Gagosian Hong Kong, November 23, 2017 to January 13, 2018. Courtesy Gagosian. Artworks © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2017

Installation view, "DAMIEN HIRST: Visual Candy and Natural History" at Gagosian Hong Kong, November 23, 2017 to January 13, 2018. Courtesy Gagosian. Artworks © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2017

Installation view, "DAMIEN HIRST: Visual Candy and Natural History" at Gagosian Hong Kong, November 23, 2017 to January 13, 2018. Courtesy Gagosian. Artworks © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2017

By distinction, Natural History's sculptures are sterile and somber in both tone and palette, strikingly spare in their design. These works are glass tanks of formaldehyde with organic specimens, such as Hirst's ominous shark in Myth Explored, Explained, Exploded (1993–99). Death figures a prominent theme in many of his works, Natural History being no exception. Hirst has said that his installations of this type speak to: 'That failure of trying so hard to do something that you destroy the thing that you’re trying to preserve.' [2] This dark, profound sentiment, layered aside Visual Candy's bright buoyancy provides an interesting study in disparity and juxtaposition. The greater question is precisely how these ideas can synthesize to be as multi-faceted, yet somehow balanced, as we often find lived experience itself.

Visual Candy and Natural History will be shown at Gagosian Hong Kong through January 13, 2018.

Installation view, "DAMIEN HIRST: Visual Candy and Natural History" at Gagosian Hong Kong, November 23, 2017 to January 13, 2018. Courtesy Gagosian. Artworks © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2017

Installation view, "DAMIEN HIRST: Visual Candy and Natural History" at Gagosian Hong Kong, November 23, 2017 to January 13, 2018. Courtesy Gagosian. Artworks © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2017

Installation view, "DAMIEN HIRST: Visual Candy and Natural History" at Gagosian Hong Kong, November 23, 2017 to January 13, 2018. Courtesy Gagosian. Artworks © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2017

[1] Damien Hirst cited in Gagosian Gallery Press Release: Damien Hirst Visual Candy and Natural History (2017). https://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/damien-hirst--november-23-2017 

[2] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst, ‘I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now’ (Booth-Clibborn Editions; Reduced edition, 2005), 296

Jennifer Sauer is a writer who holds an M.A. in Literary Arts from New York University. Her background includes writing and communications for diverse fields including the arts, charitable foundations and the financial sector. She lives in New York City with her husband and son.

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