• Christian Hain

Meditation and Medication: Damien Hirst in Paris


written in October 2021

(Paris.) For various reasons, getting into the mood proved kind of hard when I visited Damien Hirst's first ever museum (well: institutional) show in France.

For once, enjoying the September sun outside Fondation Cartier's Jean Nouvel designed building that provides a live example for those attending the architecture school vis-à-vis (it's not only impressive from the outside but offers considerable space inside, a major upgrade from that monument to impracticability - form breaks function - that is the same architect's ethnological museum at Quai Branly), I was busy counting the cars rolling by on this offically ordained "car free Sunday", some of which were indeed taxis, police or ambulances - gotta love the Frenchies and their spirit of resistance! Furthermore, I have to admit, this was a "morning after" and I felt my head spinning, wondering about how the night before, I stood packed back to back and front to front with hundreds of other tourists and locals indeed - there are those at Chatelet, don't judge me, ending up there happened more or less by accident - without a facemask in sight, and some bars even went laisser faire with the "Pass sanitaire" documenting recovery, test, or vacchination, drinking and shouting (not singing, things didn't go that far!), whereas entering the foundation's premises, I was compelled to breathe through that mask again like everyone of the maybe twenty, maybe thirty, visitors lost on 1,200 sqm (roughly 12,000 sq feet) exhibition space… But who'd ask for logic anymore these days, anywhere?

The obligation at least silenced all doubts, I might have otherwise entertained about the day and year, and potential breakthroughs in time travel technology: come on, a blockbuster Damien Hirst show?! - this is indeed 2021 and not 2010ish.

Once inside, a pleasant surprise waited in form of a powerful new series of the once so fashionable - albeit not always, for not to say "rarely", taken serious - British artist (the days are over when you wondered whether you should add a reverent "™" whenever pronouncing his name - anybody still recalls that collector, something with S…? just kidding). Today, Hirst has gone among the painters and in a statement on the jeweller foundation's website claims to have always been one at heart.


A Damien Hirst won't compete with anyone but the greatest, and for "Cerisiers en fleurs (Cherry Blossoms)" he took inspiration from those wet flowers at Place Concorde, Monet's "Nymphéas (Water Lilies)". Like at the Orangerie, awestruck visitors find benches in the centre to recline surrounded by large format art on every wall (not curved, though), while their impressions speak of nature, too: Blossoms and leaves in autumn storms (make that a hurricane!). Almost abstract, the works feel like a happy but hectic pop remix of Monet's piano, a little less meditative - you could also say: "more modern". Moving forms in many colours reaching from piglet pink to already, definitely, red, la vie en rose and this somehow being Cartier, our mind left wandering from pink champagne to "rose gold" bijoux. Yellow and white, flowers and trees vomitting their blossoms on the canvas (sorry for my associations here, but hey, that night before…), green stains like duckweed in a pool of muddy water, and some blue notes are mixed in: not necessarily the sky, maybe leaves in a dress they usually don't wear, not in our "reality". Think of confetti or gigantic jigsaw puzzles shaken out of the box to create a beautiful chaos where something is happening in every last corner. More prosaically, it's thickly coloured dots - Hirst really wasn't shy with the paint! -, and sometimes more, sometimes less pronounced black lines holding everything together (or shaking it off, after the bath); natural scaffoldings, tree branches: dots hung to dry on lines. Spring, summer, and autumn, three seasons appear merged in one and there's a potential link to fashion too, from flashy shirts to kimonos - hardly a visitor will not seize "that unique" photo opportunity and capture (more or less unobserved) somebody else whose outfit matches, or contradicts, a picture in the background.

The show continues downstairs with mostly smaller formats in the same vein. Apart of taking inspiration from the Nymphéas, there are more than traces of Pointilism and even action painting - call it Abstractly Expressionist Impressionism?! Hirst himself appears on video, deeply relaxed, and I have to admit, that I made the filthy rich artist a tiny bit richer still by buying a poster and a - oh yes, I did: T-Shirt (insert facepalm emoji).

Who feels in the mood for more flowers, albeit in a fundamentally different style, might continue to the Pompidou with Georgia O'Keefe; otherwise you could pay a visit chez Gago, Gagosian Gallery, and rediscover Hirst's uber famous series of pharmaceutical pills like a collection of toy cars behind glass, some of them "to take you away", and others "to make you stay". Spending enough time here, you will discover - or imagine - a connection: Although sculptural, these are dots of colour as well, and Hirst painted them all by hand (apparently because the real deal would have quickly rotten away - now that's a considerate attitude towards your collectors!) before arranging them, Zen style. Something else holds true for both series: have you seen one, have you seen them all… no, that's not exactly fair: there are variants, upstairs things get darker in tones of white, silver, or black, adding a more sober mood to the playful rainbow coloured ones. As you will know - who has never seen these before in the course of the past twenty years? -, they also work as a mirror, and every picture inevitably turns out a selfie: this doesn't work quite as well at Cartier Foundation. Damien Hirst, Cerisiers en fleurs, 06 July 2021-02 January 2022, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism