The Last Supper
This is the last post I will ever write on Damien Hirst, I promise. But here in Seattle, some prints by Damien Hirst are being exhibited at Woodside-Braseth Gallery. And surprise – these prints have a certain appeal. Hirst’s series of pharmaceutical and freeze-dried packaging prints entitled “The Last Supper” are on exhibit currently until October 29, 2008. How these prints by Hirst have come to be exhibited at Woodside-Braseth, primarily a gallery that features Northwest artists, is a bit novel. Regina Hackett also wonders about this fact here. Not that I’m complaining about the gallery’s choice, but could this be a new trend for the gallery? Can we expect to see other European artists exhibited at Woodside-Braseth? If so, may I request a Gerhard Richter exhibit?
The prints are not technically sophisticated in any way and are aesthetically flat and monochromatic. As is Hirst’s want, he eschews craft, design and aesthetic sensibilities in favor of “the idea”. My thoughts on conceptualism versus craft and formalism are well known and laid out in previous posts. The idea with these prints seems to be one of loosely analogizing a level of people’s faith and trust in consumption of industrialized products which nurtures and sustains today’s human existence, much the way religion might have back in the day. Existence was literally believed to be sustained by God via manna and God’s grace, but in a separated church and state in America and Europe, it is the State and business enterprise that literally sustains life. Food, the most basic of needs, is compartmentalized, genetically modified, molded, parsed, packaged by human industry and offered for consumption through a tightly controlled maze of distribution.
The gallery states about these works, “Hirst makes connections between religion and medicine, perhaps to suggest that we now place our trust in the latter and consume medication as unquestioningly as food. The number of prints echoes the number of disciples, plus Jesus, present at the Last Supper. ” The prints hint at a clever observation. But the connections Hirst makes are loose and untidy. Different people can come away with different meanings, or none at all. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be much purpose of linking the parable of the Last Supper to the work. The Last Supper was the moment when Jesus revealed his fate to his disciples and accepted his role as redeemer of the human race. The Last Supper was the beginning of the establishment of an organized Christian church on earth. Such a grand literary moment aimed at describing a distinct moment in the evolution of the human race is nowhere to be found in Hirst’s works, which are more silly than anything resembling such reverence. The invocation of The Last Supper in these works seems like an afterthought hoping to give the idea some weight.
Whether the biblical story of The Last Supper is literature or historical fact, The Last Supper was high drama with consequences. What are the consequences in Hirst’s prints? They seem ambivalent towards the subject of mankind’s acquiescent faith in industry to sustain life. They point to something of a modern ontological issue to consider, but it seems likely that Hirst may be indicating mankind is better off being sustained by industry. In literature, consequences or resolutions come after the setup of tension and conflict. There is nothing like that in these works. They are bland and matter of fact in nature.
It’s the challenge of visual artists to capture an idea in a single image that articulates relevance and importance in the artist’s day and age. It’s a difficult challenge to communicate something meaty in single images. Painters used to be able to do that but seem uninterested in such things in the 21st century. Photographers are more often able to do this, in times of war or human tragedy, by being in the right place at the right time to record an event that opens ones eyes to a tragedy or triumph that has occurred. On rare occasions an image can resonate around the world and affect millions of people. The challenge is addressed whenever an artist picks up a brush, or a camera, or the tools of printmaking. While Hirst begins with an important idea, he resolves the idea with silliness, seemingly concluding that being a fool is the resolution to the problem of being sustained by an industrialized beast. Far from critically judging that choice, perhaps Hirst represents a majority of people’s lives.