Damien Hirst “The Elusive Truth”

03/30/2005 12:00 AM |

Entering one of the back galleries of Damien Hirst’s new show of representational paintings “The Elusive Truth” — a big, potentially risky departure for the mostly installation-based British artist renowned for encasing dead animals in formaldehyde — I heard either Julian Schnabel, or his friend (I’m not sure which) declare, “He’s a good artist,” after looking at two pieces depicting the progressive, devastating effects of crack addiction on the faces of two women. It’s as if, with this show, it had been decided — Hirst is definitively a talent to be reckoned with. The almost 40, and supposedly sober ex-YBA party boy needed a good, serious show in New York to maintain his status as one of the contemporary art world’s big guns, and with “The Elusive Truth,” 24 oil paintings depicting images mostly from magazines and newspapers centering on themes of destruction, mortality and addiction (a story by J.G. Ballard, whose work deals in similar themes, The Intensive Care Unit, is reproduced in full and illustrated with paintings from the exhibition in the show’s large format catalogue) Hirst seems to have achieved this. Both the tone and caliber of the paintings are evident in the large 120 x 180 Mortuary, 2003-2004 — the first painting one sees when one enters the gallery — creating a sense of excitement for the rest of the show. From afar it looks almost like a photograph, with its shiny steel table and fridge, gleaming porcelain sink and bright white towels. Most of Hirst’s paintings share this hyperrealist, representational, photographic quality — some more than others — but up close, fall short of any such clear-cut categorization.Hirst’s predominantly strong show is rumored to have sold out — mostly
to major collectors — before it opened. When you see the paintings,
you’ll know why.