Thursday, 22 October 2009

Hirst's No Love Lost at the Wallace Museum

The paintings themselves have had a bit of a mauling, but then Rufus Sewell was never one of Damien Hirst's principal cheerleaders. I thought I'd take advantage of a lunchtime talk to give them a once-over.

Well, it turned out to be a bit of a mess. Not the paintings perhaps, which are broody 'Prussian blue' stylist-derivatives of Velasquez, Goya and Bacon. Rather we were given a dreadfully tepid introduction to the paintings. The talk was courtesy of one of the Wallace Collection's guides, a very pleasant but anonymous lady with an underpowered speaking voice for the fifty-or-so who turned up. She was clearly working with only the most basic knowledge of the paintings gleaned from Hirst (she'd clearly heard him talk a bit about them), the catalogue and the internet. For example, she clearly felt the need to refer to *grinningly* 'post-punk rockers The Joy Division' in relation to the dark tones and moribund content (almost ubiquitous trademark skulls) despite not knowing much about them.

Well, I'm sure the majority of us neither knows nor cares about them either - for those who might, they were the seminal rock act at the dawn of the 1980s, immortalised in no less than three major feature films in the past 5 years and whose albums sport now legendary artwork from Peter Saville, which - irridescent lines on black - bears more than a passing resemblance to the paintings under discussion:

Other information was presented as a biographical framework which had little to do with the paintings and which she cheerfully told us we could Google if we liked anyway. There were some interesting asides to hear about the frames of the pictures, silver gilt for five of them, four overpainted with the indigo-blue pigment that dominates the palette over the two rooms. There are also a couple of anomalous, possibly Mexican-style frames, but no further information was forthcoming. For titles to the paintings the museum has laid on a set of bafflingly cheap-n-cheerful laminated guides with inscrutable, thumbnail size reproductions of the pictures as a guide to their title, which in turn, haven't been correctly copied from the catalogue (£25 from the bookshop. It's just a picture book.)

The talk was over in 20 minutes, despite being advertised for an hour. I felt rather hard done by. No Love Lost indeed.

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