Written for The New Republic Magazine (USA):
Despite being just a short hop across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, Vauxhall used to be London’s least fashionable borough, an area known only for its outdoor urinals and irredeemably depressed bus station. But this atmosphere is now changing. Damien Hirst, ex-enfant terrible of the art world and once agitator-in-chief of the Young British Artists (YBAs), has chosen Vauxhall as the venue for his first and very own art gallery. Suddenly the whole place is interesting, plausible, a destination. But as well as renewing interest in an overlooked post code, Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery has occasioned a rash of questions. Central to which, as ever, is what is Hirst up to?
The legacy of his life and work thus far is such that—regardless of his standing as a maker—Hirst’s every act continues to be scrutinized for further evidence of his undeniable artistic genius or his undeniable marketeering cynicism. Or both—if, like me, you consider his principal artistic subject not to be death (as he himself often claims) but the commodification of art.
Hirst is now 50, and his career thus far has been a downhill slalom of provocation and pound signs.