June 13, 2007

Damien Hirst's Caesarean Birth Paintings


Lost in the wilfully delusional hype over the 1,100 carat diamond-and-platinum skull sculpture that Damien Hirst is purporting to sell for $100 million is the rest of his exhibition at White Cube, his longtime gallery in London.

The show, titled "Beyond Belief," includes a series of paintings of the 2005 caesarean birth of the artist's son Cyrus.

Hirst doesn't paint these himself; he has people for that. It's unclear whether he took the photos at the birth that are the basis for the paintings; at least one, Self Portrait as Surgeon, showing the artist posing in scrubs with a stethoscope around his neck, was probably taken by someone else. Such notions of authenticity and who executed what are irrelevant, of course, in the art world, where Hirst's paintings sell readily for seven figure prices.

But hiring a photographer to document your wife's C-section so that you can turn it into paintings later? That would be something. [Er, never mind. According to the Guardian's critic Jonathan Jones, Hirst took the snaps himself. Jones also describes another painting in the show, called Happy Family, which isn't on the web anywhere yet. It's the classic 3-person, post-partum portrait. So congrats all around to the Hirsts, I guess.]

The exhibition continues at both White Cube locations through July 7th. Viewing of the diamond skull is by timed ticket only.

Damien Hirst: Beyond Belief [whitecube.com]


Funny that there's no mention on the website of who the mother is.

[Hirst's wife is Maia Norman. They have two other sons, 12 and 7, so she must be used to it/fine with it. -ed.]

I like these. But I'd hope the paintings were an afterthought, that he didn't think about posing and painting at his wife's bedside.

I do hope someone drops that damn skull though.

I have to say that it doesn't bother me so much when an artist uses others to do some of the production of their works. Sol LeWitt is famous for it. He would write out an idea on a scrap of paper and have a dozen "assistants" actually create the work. His rational is pretty sound too, I think, when he said, β€œAn architect doesn't go off with a shovel and dig his foundation and lay every brick. He's still an artist.”

And a more haute version, "When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”

The cancer paintings are really creepy. I've got to say I really dig Hirst's schtick. I don't particularly care how handmade or sincere any of it is. That sort of seems to be the point.

The caesarian paintings make me wonder why there is such a huge increase in the number of planned c-sections. Maybe I'm a wuss, but it seems way more invasive than vaginal birth. Major surgery and all. I just can't wrap my brain around why you would do it on purpose. Hmm.

Why should only vaginal births celebrated with photos, etc?

Even though I had planned a totally natural,hippy birth, I had a c-section (after about 30 hours of labor and becoming almost fully dilated).I feel sad that those of us in this situation can't celebrate our babies births and feel ashamed of our 'failure'.

When I worked in a rural part of Africa for several years it was almost common that women sometimes died in childbirth.Fortunately for us in the western world, we take for granted we have safe birth choices.

I have been following Hirst's work for a long time now and love the birth paintings.

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