Damien Hirst has never shirked from the bizarre or extreme. Do you remember his controversial artworks ranging from formaldehyde sharks, sheep sawn in half, psychedelic dot canvases and now to his new enormous head dead/half living sculptural incarnations at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s a mix of the mythical, a dash of the anatomical with a gesture of pop art. What! I hear you but Hirst has always shocked through the complexities between art and beauty, religion and science, life and death.
Invited by the Yorkshire Sculpture Festival for this year’s festival dedicated to sculpture across 100 days. Seven of Hirst’s sculptures are currently being displayed in Leeds Art Gallery and the city centre, as well as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park itself. This is where I have visited today.
Passing through the sheep-packed fields (how apt) to the The Virgin Mother (2005–2006) a monolithic 10-metre-high pregnant human woman, half flayed so you can see her insides and unborn baby. She stands forthright like a gladiator in the open green. There’s no cuddling of the stomach, she’s on the move and ready for action. Hirst apparently took inspiration from Edgar Degas’ ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’, the figure’s stance references his 1880 sculpture of a young student of the Paris Opera Ballet dance school. Hirst said of The Virgin Mother “It is kind of naughty; she shouldn’t really be pregnant. I wanted a feeling of that. Anyone who is pregnant looks old enough, that’s the problem.” (Okayyy, Damien).
Across the field, another half flayed sculpture resides on a classical plinth, disrupting the familiar narrative of sculptures of horses. Myth (2010), a white unicorn with one half of its skin revealing vibrant red muscles and tissues. It’s rubber-like material channels a mythical kind of energy while its hidden belly of bronze belies Hirst’s reference to a depth of spiritual or religious strength. It’s yet another tongue-in-cheek shout-out to the establishment of traditional sculpture.
These hidden depths follow through in Charity (2002–2003) a huge battered children’s charity sculpture whose locked box has been prised open leaving pennies by her feet. It’s worn and weathered look harks back to the 80’s when these would be found on every main high street. Hirst has created this sculpture to question and challenge the outdated ways of presenting disability and seeking charity. It’s a memorable piece and slightly out-of-place in-between the other sculptures but this is most likely what Hirst is deliberately trying to achieve. He wants to unsettle us. He wants to create angst. He wants us to step back and think what exactly am I looking at. They’re not sculptures in the traditional sense. They’re almost nonsensical. He’s unveiling issues at the heart of each sculpture, yet collaborating with art history to provide credence which sometimes works, and alas, sometimes doesn’t.
On until 29 Sep 2019
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
West Bretton, Wakefield