It never fails: the first thing I think when I see a Damien Hirst is — sheesh, that’s a big budget. The scale of his work is mind-boggling, and the commission he made for The Lever House, School: The Archeology of Lost Desires, Comprehending Infinity, and the Search for Knowledge, boasts that swagger that’s made him a superstar.
The installation is a “school room” of glass tanks full of sheep carcasses attached to hospital hoses with a single shark and some live canaries among them. Leading the “class” is a large tank containing two sides of beef, an umbrella, birdcage and an armchair — direct references to the Francis Bacon and Rene Magritte paintings below.
Damien Hirst’s School… has more conceptual density than some of his other work, and this is not a good thing. There is so much going on — rows of dead sheep, live birds, an operating room’s worth of medical equipment, ashtrays under every object, clocks running backwards, stacks of sand, a paragraph-like title — that his poetry becomes belabored.
The two works Hirst references have no need for spelled-out exegesis. Those great painters both allow their subjects to breathe, to have some wiggle room, and to ultimately work out their concepts in a sensitive, interior dialogue in which only the most interested viewers might engage. If only Hirst could have learned that same lesson under their tutelage.
School: The Archeology of Lost Desires, Comprehending Infinity, and The Search for Knowledge
Lever House Art Collection, New York
November 12, 2007 – February 9, 2008