Hirst Spot Paintings, Gagosian Gallery


At this point I am almost certain that everyone and their grandmother knows of Damien Hirst, the controversial British artist. On the off chance that there might be someone unfamiliar among us,  I will illuminate some pertinent details of Hirst’s work. Hirst was born in Bristol, UK in 1965 (Thompson 65). He graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London with a degree in Fine Art (ibid). He went on to be the most influential member of the YBA’s (Young British Artists) in the mid 1990’s (66). His most controversial and notable work is, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) (ibid). The work consists of a shark that is preserved in in a tank of formaldehyde. His rise to fame is primarily responsible due to the recognition of legendary collector and gallery owner Charles Saatchi.

The most recent exhibition of Hirst’s work was with the Gagosian Gallery. His “Spot Paintings” were displayed exclusively worldwide at all 11 locations. The paintings, of which there are 311, consist of single dots or spots. The paintings range in size from large wall sized canvases to small works that are slightly larger than legal paper. The largest work contains over 25,000 spots that are each a millimeter in diameter. The smallest is a half spot that is 1 by 1.5 inches.  Hirst does not paint many of the works himself. He has created a studio/factory space where his assistants paint the spots  Although, the paintings consist solely of identical spots, he believes that some of his assistants are better at execution of the dots than others (Thompson 70). He believes that even some have surpassed his dot-making abilities (ibid).

The only spot paintings I have seen were at the Madison Avenue location of the gallery. The gallery is comprised of 3 floors, all of them were literally full of spots. Some large canvases with small spots, other small canvases with large spots. The colour scheme was variable. It ranged from monochromatic to nearly every colour known to man. This was the first show I had ever been to where I didn’t have a favourite or least favourite work. They were all the same, but yet different. I guess to the vast number of Hirst collectors, the works do have stand alone quality, but what I took away most from the experience was the mass repetition of the same object. It was a surreal, albeit a slightly nauseating experience, being in a gallery space surrounded by spots. The gallery was transformed from sterile austerity to a near funhouse. There was something innately playful about an entire collection of Hirst’s spots. To capitalize on this childlike aesthetic the gallery held a competition, where they would offer the winner a Spot print if they travelled to each gallery that was holding the exhibition and collected a stamp.

As I walked through the gallery I couldn’t help but think of Difference in Repetition. This text has been one that I have struggled to understand, but from what I do comprehend, it can explain some of the magic, if any,  in Hirst’s work. His paintings are in high demand and as of the moment it is nearly impossible to acquire one of his Spot works. As Deleuze illustrates there are two beliefs in moral law, that repetition is equated to either evil or good. The evil beliefs relies on the idea that repetition of the same activities will lead to boredom. The good believes that repetition will lead to dutiful fulfilment and satisfaction. There was something sublime and surreal by being surrounded with the same subject in different forms. It was disorienting familiar. It became about the works as whole and their collective experience. The differences could really be seen in the works when they were side by side, by that was not what anyone was talking about. The conversations that filled the gallery space were more of being taken aback by “seeing spots” and their dwarfing quality or the monotony. “Is this art?” was frequently uttered as was “How much is that one …” and some struggle trying to explain which one the inquirer was referring to.

Love him or hate him there is no debating his cultural relevance or his financial success. He is the world’s wealthiest living artist and the first to have his work displayed on such a scale. Whether one considers his work art or not is not particularly relevant. He single handedly changed  contemporary art consumption. Art is fashion. People want commodities. If they are willing to pay for it why not make it available? After all who is the joke on, the “artist” or the one paying six figures for four spots on a canvas?


– Kyle


“Damien Hirst – January 12 – February 18, 2012 – Gagosian Gallery.” Current Exhibitions. Gagosian Gallery, Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/d–january-12-2012&gt;.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Introduction.” Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. Web. Apr. 2012. <http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/classes/readings/Deleuze/Difference-and-Repetition/English/DifferenceRepetition01.pdf&gt;.

Thompson, Donald N. The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.


6 Responses to “Hirst Spot Paintings, Gagosian Gallery”

  1. I can’t believe all you get is a print for going to all 11 locations worldwide. They should at least give you an original painting, it would cost you tens of thousands in airfare to make those trips, which is about what a lower prices dot painting would cost.

  2. immanentterrain2 Says:

    I have read a rather harsh criticism of Hirst’s work in New Yorker that is relevant in the context of the aesthetic value of Hirst’s work in relation to the commodification and the notion of art and Integrated World Capitalism by Guattari. The article touches upon the idea that the original question of ‘What is art?’ challenged by artists such as Duchamp as a reaction to the political economy of artistic production is now being used in IWC to push the boundaries of commodification even further.
    “Hirst honestly vivifies a situation in which the power of money celebrates itself by shedding all pretext of supporting illiquid values.”
    ”’Why not?’ A sense of frictionless impunity must be exciting if you’re on the supply side of the economy and culture.”

    New Yorker, Jan 23 2010 pp 84-85

    sepans / April 25th

  3. immanentterrain2 Says:

    I suppose if one considers making money an art form, one could consider Hirst a a successful artist. He has used commodification of the art world skillfully to his financial success. His art is made to engage with the current commercial system of cultural symbols of significance. Judgements aside, I think this is neither a good nor bad thing — just something he is good at. There are many ways to be an “artist.” Creativity is found in many forms. Perhaps finding a way to create art that is both “high brow” and fits into “pop culture” is a creative innovation in its own right.


  4. immanentterrain2 Says:

    To be fair, Bezdomny, prints of Hirst dots are still incredibly valuable. The most recent print auction at Phillips contained a few that sold for $20,000 a piece. Methamphetamine, 2004 sold for that amount and is in an addition size of 115 with 30 artist proofs!

    Kyle, I didn’t make it to the Madison Ave. installation of the Hirst dots, but I did see the ones on display at the W. 21 St. location in Chelsea. I am just as pessimistic and skeptical about Hirst’s art as the next person (I particularly liked this blog post in response to the exhibitions http://www.artfagcity.com/2012/01/04/hirsts-spotted-at-gagosian/), but I found my experience in Chelsea to be quite different from yours. The installation I saw was in one big room and displayed 14 paintings ranging from 7 inches to 40 feet across (1). Seeing tiny colorful dots beside huge ones, I felt that the exhibition couldn’t help but be playful. I think this was also partly due to the large-scale differences between paintings. There was a small one that revealed more of a human touch, and I think this too, that they are not only made by hand, but by many different hands, makes them more interesting. I really went in expecting to be disgusted by the commercial fodder, but I couldn’t NOT like them. I do think you’re right to bring in Deleuze’s difference and repetition. Seeing the repeated forms produced with differences was playful for me in a way that depicted a greater trajectory or process. I think it’d be a shame to own just one as they really only work for me in this display of creation by difference and repetition. – HB

  5. Wow, this article is nice, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things,
    so I am going to let know her.

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