[…] Just as the atom bomb was the culmination of Oppenheimer’s work as a nuclear physist and a turning point in the war, For the Love of God is the culmination of Hirst’s production to date. In With Dead Head from 1991 he juxtaposes life and dead and establishes an artistic path that takes us through the body of work from that moment on. This path seems to culminate in For the Love of God, where life and death are integrated. With For the Love of God Hirst has symbolically detonated a nuclear bomb and let loose an indomitable force. It will become a turning point in the world of art and cognition, “the destroyer of worlds”.
[…] In For the Love of God Hirst has peeled away the outer layers. He has reduced the phenomenal to its essentials, an essence characterizing human existence and generating new symbols of human existence in its present reality. In the traditional use of skulls (and skeletons) they symbolize an essential structure which expresses non-existence. Here, this means that the essence of our being is non-being.
[…] As a continually mutating body of works, Hirst’s Dot Paintings stand apart, both from modernism’s fetishizing of the original and from 1980s appropriation art’s obsession with the copy. Adhering to a post-industrial image logic, they multiply as a simultaneously variable and familiar design that, by a conceptual copy-modify-paste maneuver, can be activated on a broad range of communicative surfaces. From internal variations in the artist’s production to multiples and objects sold online by Hirst’s company Other Criteria, the dots have spread to a broader cultural sphere, appearing on an automobile - a Mini parked on the steps leading into the Saatchi Gallery - and on a boat shuttling passengers across the Thames between the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain.
[…] In the dots, Hirst is consciously staging his art practice as a distribution of designs.
[…] The Beatles’ combination of homely ditties like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” (its lyrics in part copied word for word from an 1843 circus poster that John Lennon discovered in a second-hand shop) with an eclectic array of borrowed avant-garde musical devices (karlheinz Stockhausen features on the Sergeant Pepper cover) bears comparison with Hirst’s on several levels. The time of iconic British rock stars seems itself consigned to the past, while an artist like Hirst commands something of their old media magic. The very thing for which he has been dismissed, that is, his operating as much through the mass media as through the disinterested contemplation of informed observers, represents a rock strategy brought to art.
[…] With Dead Head functions as a programmatic statement of Hirst’s future artistic intentions and institutes a retrospective, “pathographic” (to use Freud’s term) correlation between the artist’s character and his personal creative expression. […] It establishes a claim for artistic authenticity, a talent not shaped by an educational system or social context but rather emerging fully formed with an inherent capacity and hard-wired flair to provoke and shock.
[…] Death will always remain a solitary and ultimately incomprehensible phenomenon, leaving no one to recount the experience. Warhol’s Philosophy has a chapter on death, consisting of only four sentences, which states: “I don’t believe in it, because you are not around to know that it’s happened. I can’t say anything about it because I am not prepared for it.” Hirst similarly acknowledged the impossibility of imagining or depicting death, while declaring his fascination with the unknowable: “I don’t understand death, don’t think any of us do, I doubt we ever will, but let’s never stop trying.” His most famous work, a majestick shark suspended in formaldehyde, poignantly reflects this philosophical dilemma, as indicated in the wonderful poetis title, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991). The two artists share a puzzled fascination with something that is everywhere and yet remains incomprehensible, that is universal (and even "democratic"), yet ultimately has the most relevance in the personal sphere. In With Dead Head, Hirst attempts to transcend the boundaries of conventional representation and metaphorical circumscription and find a way to show death and its terrifying impact on the human body and psyche. The intensely human quality of the severed head and its distinctiveness of character, coupled with an outrageous act of moral corruption, help to break down the inadequacy of art, pushing it towards the very concrete experience of death.
[…] Hirst, by contrast, makes an issue of visuality. His works wants you to look at them, and they command attention by means of scale, color, slickness, and any other device that might work in a given case. But there’s another thing: Duchamp’s objects inhabit real, three-dimensional space; they were not meant to be set off in a distinct and separate aesthetic realm – although it is now the case that they are typically shown in vitrines, separate and untouchable. With Hirst, of course, the vitrine is not a belated addition to the artist’s work as is the case with Duchamp. On the contrary, with him it is of the essence. One might go so far as to say that the most important thing about many of his pieces in the vitrine, and that the decision as to what it should be filled with is, conceptually speaking, secondary.
Master of Life and Death
[...] Hirst rose to instant fame in 1991 with another perserved fish, The Physical Impossiblity of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a fully grown female tiger shark, pickled in a steel-and-glass tank reminiscent of 1960s Minimal Art. Once again highlighting global commodity flows, the artist ordered the animal over the phone from an Australian company and a fisherman caught it on demand. This conceptual approach is mirrored in his specific interpretation of wet preparation. Hirst insistently demonstrates his control over the massive shark corpse by employing the most elaborate technique: While animals of that size usually, for economical reasons, are only preserved in part or in their embryonic state, Hirst – and his patron, Charles Saatchi – obviously prefer to be seen as powerful masters of capital, and of life and death.
[…] Despite the unconventional materials, one can spot a very traditional artist’s role. As documented in a book designed by Hirst, I want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, large animals, such as cows, not only make the preparation process hard work, they also turn it into a state of war: Hirst’s body disappears behind a gas mask, protective suit and gloves. Plainly, by posing with a special anatomical syringe used to inject the solution into the animal’s veins, the artist places himself within a weighty tradition of anatomy and wet preparation.
[…] Although in the early 1960s Andy Warhol fashioned his own response to Duchamp’s critique of painting with his painting- by- numbers series, it is Hirst who provides the most extended commentary on them to date. The premise behind the spot wall paintings – namely that the owner should paint them and select the composition from the provided paint pots (thus introducing a sense of the arbitrary into the composition)- goes right to the heart of Duchamp’s founding critique. This, together with the importance of titles to the series, is crucial, since Hirst’s titles - which often refer to specific types of drugs and their effects – seem to cancel out the playful retinality of the paintings (or at the very least appear to be at odds with it).
[…] There is an affect produced by looking at the suffering of the Apostles in Hirst’s Romance in the Age of Uncertainty that is the soul. In one way, as in the Bible, each prophet in Hirst’s rendering is reduced to the particular bodily mortification that they will undergo (St Thomas is speared, St Peter is crucified upside down), but what Hirst shows us is that the human can never be reduced to this. The equation he puts his faith in is that the more suffering the body undergoes the more beautiful it is, the more it is reduced to the medical or pharmacological the more its spirituality shines forth.
This is the true 'religious' dimension of Hirst's work: That the spirit is not to be grasped outside of its incorporealisation but only in and through the flesh.