Connecting the Dots: Details Emerge About Damien Hirst's Insane Global "Spot" Painting Show

Connecting the Dots: Details Emerge About Damien Hirst's Insane Global "Spot" Painting Show
Damien Hirst's "2-Amino-5-Bromobenzotrifluoride," (2011) at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art
(Photo courtesy Prudence Cumin Associates)

Think Damien Hirst is overexposed now? Just wait for January 12, when a gargantuan exhibition of his “Spot” paintings opens at every Gagosian gallery in the world. Details have already emerged about the boundary-breaking show, and Hirst himself is getting the word out to the press — but he's going off-message too, opining on artist’s resale rights and divulging details about private conversations with his dealer Larry Gagosian.

Hirst’s plan to dominate the world with his dotty art began more than 10 years ago, when he floated the idea to executives at the Tate Modern and Saatchi Gallery. Though the show didn’t come to fruition then, the artist broached the idea a few years ago with Gagosian, who leapt on opportunity. After more than six months of intensive searching, calling, and cataloguing all over the world, the dealer will unveil an survey of approximately 300 spot paintings at his 11 galleries worldwide. A spot painting catalogue raisonné will accompany the exhibition (try to contain your excitement). In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hirst estimated that he has created about 1,400 of the paintings over the course of his career. 

While a small portion of the works will be for sale, the vast majority are on loan, largely from private collectors. And since the gallery sought to exhibit the paintings at the gallery closest to where they live in the world, the show will offer a kind of map of where spot paintings have ended up. The process led to some interesting trends: “A lot of the controlled substance paintings — the irregularly shaped canvases — are in Europe and London,” Gagosian director Millicent Wilner told ARTINFO. “So those will be shown at the London gallery.” Similarly, many of the circular spot canvases ended up in the United States along the East Coast, so they will be featured at Gagosian’s New York space. The international search even led one collector to uncover a spot painting he didn’t know he had. “That kind of discovery is always exciting,” said Wilner, who declined to provide any additional details.

It is, perhaps, all too appropriate that Hirst’s spot paintings — a body of work made almost entirely by his machine-like army of assistants — will be shown at the world’s largest machine for selling art. Hirst told the L.A. Times that the series is “a battle between the machine made and man-made. From a distance they look machine made, and then on closer inspection you can see trace of the human hand, pencil lines, and [compass] holes.” The exhibition will include Hirst’s first spot painting (created on board in 1986) as well as more recent ones, like a 12 by 16-inch canvas featuring 18,000 spots that Hirst expects to have finished just in time for the opening.  

According to Wilner, the artist has been very involved in the exhibition: “I have, in my office, scale models of all 11 galleries around the world with scaled-down images of the paintings, and we have meetings and move things around,” she said.

Presumably in an effort to drum up interest in the show, Hirst has been chatting with reporters about more than just spots. He recently opened up to Artlyst about his opinions of the U.K.’s recent expansion of its resale law, which offers artists and their families the right to collect a royalty on the resale of their work. He also gave a bizarre but intriguing anecdote to the L.A. Times about working with Larry: “I remember Larry once phoned me up, and he said he was worried about my production,” Hirst told the paper. “He said: You are making too many paintings. And then, at the end of the conversation, he said: We need more paintings.”

Hirst's tale does touch on an important question about the upcoming show: what effect will this flood of spot paintings have on Hirst’s market? The artist doesn’t seem too concerned. “I've looked at the amount of artworks I've made in my life: 4,800, not including prints,” he told the Times. “I know Warhol did 10,000 not including prints, and Picasso did 40,000. So I have a way to go.”