No British artist in living memory has achieved the glaring notoriety of Damien Hirst. As a teen-ager his idea of a fun photo was posing next to the swollen head of a corpse in a morgue. In the photo he grins with crazy intensity, and ever since then his aim has been to dazzle with disgust. One imagines that he wanders the streets in an acid-green spotlight waving off paparazzi the way Orestes waved off flies. In fact, flies figure into several of Hirst's pieces. One is an installation in which maggots are eating a skinned cow's head. Another is a black disc mounted on the wall made of resin and squashed houseflies. The repellent is Hirst's muse.
Oh, that this rain would end! I dried my socks by stepping into the Tate Britain this afternoon.The museum collection is divided into three parts – the glorious, the dull, and the querulous. The glorious, all those luminescent Turner paintings, went on tour this year, so the mobs aren’t in attendance. The management left a few strays lingering in various galleries (like the sublimely bucolicGolden Bough and a Venetian water scene where only an outlined gondola betrays that Turner wasn’t painting a celestial city), and these left-behinds glow like yellow sapphires. The dull part of the Tate consists of traditional British paintings, large rooms hung double-decker style with portraits of horse-faced lords and their pale, powdered ladies. I have to squint to read the labels, so it’s work to separate the Reynolds, Gainsboroughs, and Van Dycks from the acreage of peerage that surrounds them. If I sound captious, it’s because the third portion of the Tate Britain, devoted to modern art, exasperated me.