British artist Damien Hirst poses besides 'The Incredible Journey' at Sotheby's. Photo: EFE / Andy Rain

KYIV, UKRAINE - The Pinchuk Art Centre will open Requiem, a major retrospective of over 100 works dating from 1990 to 2008, by Damien Hirst. Requiem opens on 25th April and continues through 20th September 2009. 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 as well as Death Explained, 2007, a sculpture of a shark cut in half in formaldehyde, the exhibition shows the extraordinary breadth of Hirst's artistic enterprise.

Eckhard Schneider
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, endeavours with calculated passion to carry out the imperceptible crossing of the borderline to death clearly, precisely and brutally.

Damien Hirst butterflies (detail)Michael Bracewell
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 splendour.

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Pause For Thought

Brancusi on Essence

"What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things . . . it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface."