Meeting Damien Hirst in Mexico City

Damian_Hirst Why is Damien Hirst opening a major show in Mexico City of all places? Well, buena suerte – good luck – is big in this country, and a chance meeting between one-time gallery owner Hilario Galguera and the world-famous artist at a social event led first to friendship and then to collaboration.

David Hulme, Damien Hirst and
Brigitte Banziger

Hirst is a confessed Mexico aficionado, and Hilario  introduced him to the real Mexico of Lucha Libre and much more. In  turn, Hirst went on to encourage Hilario Galguera to open a gallery again and finally, on offering him a Hirst show, Galguera relented.

This resulted in their first show in February 2006 with 26 works from Hirst´s ¨Tank Series¨. Gallery Hilario Galguera has since gone on to exhibit a host of international and Mexican artists in Mexico City and in their gallery in Leipzig, Germany.

The current show ¨Dark Trees¨ featuring over 30 works has been in the planning for over a year. It´s a very personal exhibition for Hirst and is also a tribute to his friend, the artist Angus Fairhurst, who committed suicide in 2008 at the age of only 41.

Not all of the wiorks are for sale. Some are from Hirst´s own collection and others in the series have been loaned from private collections. Works displayed range from 650,000 pounds to 7.5 million pounds for a triptych.

David Hulme:  Is it important that you are also promoting Mexican art by holding exhibitions here in Mexico City?
Damien Hirst: No, for me it´s about the people, friends and relationships are important to me. I´ve been coming to Mexico for a long time. I´ve got a place at the beach. I might come here for three months at a time.

David Hulme: Are there buyers in Mexico for your works?
Damien Hirst: Yes, now there are, and let´s face it we only need to sell one painting and it´s paid for everything including a good party, isn´t that right Hilario.

David Hulme: You can´t get many people through the gallery here in comparison to London, It´s all pretty low key here isn´t it?
Damien Hirst: No, that´s not true we hold the exhibition here for a longer period, three months, so it evens out with numbers over time.
Hilario:  Yes, at Damien´s last show here in Mexico City we had 70´000 people through the door.

David Hulme: With your previous and most well known works with Australian sharks have you ever considered putting an Australian Crocodile in formaldhyde.
Damien Hirst: No, although I did have a collector ask me one time, but no, I´m a bit over that now. We do actually have a lot of crocodiles down at the beach here in Mexico, you see them at night. It´s also excellent surf. My wife´s a mad keen surfer, I call myself a surf widow.

David Hulme:  Have you tried it?
Damien Hirst: No, it´s all too much like hard work for me.

David Hulme: You should come to our home town, Manly Beach in Sydney. We have some great waves there too. Maybe stick to painting surfboards then.
Damien Hirst: Yeah, I´ve done a few of those too.

David: What about Mexico City?
Damien:  Yeah, it´s a great town. Look, I met Mexico´s president last night. You can´t do things like that back home in England. Imagine like going to meet with the Queen.

Dark Trees – The works

Hirst_David As for the images themselves, arresting images of death dominate. We observe the familiar Hirst motifs including skulls, sharks and well used dots in many of these paintings. Clear influences of Mexico and the Mexican´s attitude to death resonate here.

In some of his images Hirst creates a web from which there seems no escape from inevitable death. In others he has produced an x-ray like effect as if this will somehow reveal the answers about death Hirst is seeking. In another work we see a priest, his head a skull – the death of religion or its demise perhaps. Hirst appears to answer his own questions with these images of death, as to where he is ultimately headed. Through these dark images and subjects there is a light of optimism, some feeling of a light at the end of the tunnel. Death is a reality but nothing to be fearful of. It comes to us all – a truly Mexican vision.

Criticism of Damien Hirst´s paintings has been quite frequent lately. Aware of all the criticism I walked into Gallery Galguera with I hope as open a mind as possible. An uninspiring building on the outside, the space is beautifully modern internally and cmpliments Hirst´s work well.

But are these paintings good? Clearly the expectations on all works that Hirst produces are now like his prices, in the stratosphere. I prefer to ignore the price tags as I see them as completely separate from looking at his art.

I enjoyed the works for what they were. I didn´t feel thatnew ground was being broken here but if you have ever been to Mexico you will see where Hirst is coming from and that here he is dealing with his own mortality. Let´s face it, the artist is still only 44 years old.

I think we should look forward to what he does next with some enthusiasm. Hirst is after all always likely to confound and suprise us that´s what makes him interesting. Hirst is undoubtedly one of the most successful artists of all time. At his age he still has a lot to give us, so a little patience wouldn´t go amiss.
– Article originally published in Australian Art Sales Digest

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