‘Colour Space’, a series of new paintings by Damien Hirst are exhibited for the first time in the State Rooms at the 18th Century Stately Home Houghton Hall, along with a series of sculptures installed in the house and park until 15 July 2018.
Damien Hirst, Colour Space series, in the Saloon at HOUGHTON HALL, NORFOLK
©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018 Photo by Pete Huggins
Houghton Hall, a grand country house constructed in the 1720s for Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, is now the family home of the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley. One of England’s finest Palladian houses, in its modern incarnation Houghton Hall has established a reputation for exhibiting site-specific work by world-class artists, with recent exhibitions including Richard Long’s Land art and James Turrell’s light installations fitting perfectly into the breathtaking surroundings of the 1,000 acre estate.
The latest A-list artist to be given carte blanche to exhibit at Houghton, has a somewhat more showy style than Long and Turrell, and the result is an assault on the senses in the form of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings that take the visitor on a psychedelic trip through the State rooms of Houghton Hall.
Damien Hirst, The Virgin Mother, in the Pleasure Grounds at HOUGHTON HALL, NORFOLK ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018 Photo by Pete Huggins
The exhibition curated by Mario Codognato also features some of Hirst’s most iconic sculptures including the ‘Virgin Mother’ (2005-2006) which was shown in the Royal Academy’s courtyard in 2006, and ‘Charity’ (2002-2003) – a giant 22 ft version of the old-fashioned children’s charity collection boxes from the 1960s. In the entrance hall of Houghton ‘Anatomy of an Angel’ (2008) greets visitors to the interior part of the exhibition, which also includes two kinetic sculptures from Hirst’s ‘Levitation’ series comprised of air blowers and table tennis balls.
Damien Hirst, Charity, by the stables at HOUGHTON HALL, NORFOLK ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018 Photo by Pete Huggins
On top of the Grand Piano in one of the State Rooms are framed photographs of some of the VIPs who stayed at Houghton, including The Queen, Prince Philip and Winston Churchill, and you can imagine them choking on their toast and marmalade in the morning if they woke up to see Hirst’s Trippy spot paintings hung amongst the Baroque drapes and four poster beds of William Kent’s fantastical interiors. But somehow the vibrant colours and haphazard spots of the canvases with titles like ‘Cocaine’ and ‘Mushroom’ work with the grandiose surroundings.
Much has been written about the fact that Hirst himself painted these new canvases, although that shouldn’t be unusual for an artist, it’s well known that he is of the school of Koons or Warhol, artists used to employing many studio assistants to execute their ideas. But photos released of Hirst applying paint to canvas with his own priceless hands, have been enough for the new spot paintings to sell out immediately in an exhibition at Gagosian in Los Angeles. At Houghton Hall, drips of paint are visible below some of the spots, rendering them imperfect but obviously a deliberate guise to emphasise the hand crafted nature of the paintings. However, for me the paintings don’t possess the cleverness of Bridget Riley who carefully executed her recent spot paintings at David Zwirner by hand (as she always has done since she invented Op Art in the 70s). Riley’s new spot paintings are an ingenious optical illusion, that play with the senses. Whereas Hirst’s seem more of a decorative and playful riff on Pointillism.
Damien Hirst, Temple, in the Pleasure Grounds at HOUGHTON HALL, NORFOLK ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018 Photo by Pete Huggins
The sculptures in the gardens fit more naturally into their surroundings, in particular the Unicorn and Pegasus flanking the entrance of the house and leading the eye to the sweeping vista of the carefully landscape lawns and maze. A macabre black sculpture of a male with his skin half stripped away to reveal the inner workings of the anatomy almost jumps out at you when leaving the Hall and walking along a pathway to the gardens.
Lord Cholmondeley, owner of Houghton, said:
”We are delighted to have this opportunity to show Damien Hirst’s new paintings in the State Rooms at Houghton, together with some of his best-known sculptures in the grounds. It is perhaps the first time that Hirst has shown a significant body of work in a formal country house setting. William Kent’s gilded interiors will be transformed for the duration of the show.”
Damien Hirst is at Houghton Hall until 15th July 2018 and forms part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.