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Damien Hirst: The Enfant Terrible of the Art World

Posted: 04/ 3/2012 8:16 pm

Damien Hirst is the most important, expensive bloodthirsty artist in the world and Wednesday his show opens at the Tate Gallery in London and runs through September. From his beginnings in 1988, when he curated "Freeze", he has titillated his audience. There he showed artists Mat Collishaw and Angus Fairhurst, among others. They were mentored by their tutor at Goldsmiths, the artist Michael Craig Martin. The "Young British Artists" as they were then called, were off on their journey. Michael persuaded Nicholas Serota and Norman Rosenthal to go to the exhibition and so the circus began and Charles Saatchi, the advertising guru who is the Medici of the British contemporary art world and ex-husband to Kay, picked the artists up and literally made them into stars. Before this point nobody really gave a damn about Contemporary Art but Charles and the artists made it very sexy because Damien is eccentric and totally unpredictable.

I met Damien Hirst about ten years ago when Kay Saatchi was getting her divorce from Charles. Damien was being adorable to her, doing all he could to make her feel better. I remember in the middle of the conversation he suddenly grabbed some bronze insect decorations from the table at Trois Garcons, a restaurant in the East End of London, and gave them to her. He is short, round, attractive and always an imp.

Born in 1965, he is famous for reminding us life is short -- in the form of The Shark, The Sheep and The Cow's Head (which is called "A Thousand Years Old"). After all, we are all dying and one thing is for certain -- nobody will live forever. He is equally famous for his pretty, and very popular Butterfly paintings, which have turned out to be reliable investments. He has owned a restaurant and turned his art into mass production. There is nothing wrong with that. He clearly understands what people want and he enjoys the business of it all.

With the huge exhibition opening today at The Tate and another show at The Paul Stolper Gallery through April 28, art lovers will see colorful inkjet prints of skulls, pills and a visual discussion of his favorite topics of love, life and death. He is also participating in The Victoria and Albert Museum show "The Innovation of the Modern Age -- 1948-2012", which is showing significant pieces that changed the way we see things. Pieces from his restaurant, Pharmacy, are being included.

Damien's work is exactly what the art world is about. For better or for worse, he is at the top of the world we all live in; he knows what he is doing. He is clever, tenacious and taking the piss. He believes that whatever you do, you work with other people, and everything has to last. He had a love for Bacon because he was able to do bad copies of it at art school (copying a Rembrandt would have been more difficult).

He took a huge unprecedented risk and put his art, that was less than two years old, up for auction at Sotheby's at a time when the world was in financial chaos. Jay Jopling owner of White Cube Gallery, wisely stayed silent. Jay has known him for years and together they built the business up. They share a love of Yorkshire and a love of Maia, Jay's then girlfriend, and Damien's now wife. No matter how close they were, Damien wanted the artists to have another place to sell their art, and not just rely on the galleries. He sold his Golden Cow on target for approximately ten million pounds. There was talk of fury and betrayal and that the gallery world was over. It is not, but he made his point. Damien was not worried as he was confident of his popular appeal.

Of course he takes advantage of the fact that the gamblers love him... and, why not? He is much more clever than they are.

From tiny footsteps and Charles Saatchi's early support, until their falling out in 2003, his cleverness allowed him to rise to the top of his profession. With the help of his worker bees these colorful exhibitions will help to set the tone in London for the Olympics.