Love Hirst

Kate Sutton on Damien Hirst at the PinchukArtCentre in Kiev

Kiev, Ukraine

Left: Daniel Craig with collector Victor Pinchuk. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Damien Hirst. (Photo courtesy PinchukArtCentre)

LAST FRIDAY, the PinchukArtCentre in Kiev delivered its “Requiem,” a sprawling selection of Damien Hirst’s recent works, largely culled from private collections. After a year of planning and an eight-week-long install (running up to the final hour before the opening, when assistants were busy hair-spraying a giant ashtray), the exhibition is the culmination of the close friendship and creative collaboration between Hirst and collector Victor Pinchuk. The private view took cues from Bulgakov, with a beaming Pinchuk—playing the part of Margarita at the Midnight Ball—welcoming the glittering procession of artists, oil magnates, and other affluent guests filtering through the institution’s single staircase. Over the course of the evening, more than two thousand visitors would brave the crush of the tiny stairwell, among them curators Hans Ulrich Obrist, Sir Norman Rosenthal, and Suzanne Pagé, artist Michael Craig-Martin, and of course Hirst’s London dealer Jay Jopling. Conspicuously absent was Hirst’s other dealer, Larry Gagosian. (“I think he had a head cold,” shrugged one art adviser.)

If the artist’s spectacular auction at Sotheby’s last September had meant to perform the inner workings of the art world, “Requiem” offers a subtle revision, blurring the boundaries between earnestness and irony. The same could be said of the surreal program of events around the opening, which ranged from a performance by child prodigies in a puppet theater to a “make-your-own-spin-painting” session supervised by Hirst and Pinchuk, conducted the following day in the outdoor mall adjacent to the institution (also the site of a temporary pavilion affectionately referred to as “the shark tank”).

In press notes, the exhibition is loosely termed a retrospective, but the majority of the works on display are new paintings, many making their world debut—and potentially final stop, if rumors are to be believed—in Kiev. The show is not without its share of cutesy curatorial moments and good-natured self-consciousness. It opens with A Thousand Years, a work from 1990 that features a bisected glass chamber containing tin pans of sugar, an “insect-o-cutor,” and a cow’s severed head, which oozed a glossy puddle of blood onto the floor. Dead flies littered the ground in both chambers, with the occasional fly on its back fluttering its wings or executing one last death drag across the tiles. The few that could still fly made stunted, short-lived ventures, inevitably ending up against a glass wall.

Left: Curator Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, GCCC founder Dasha Zhukova, and Bianca Jagger. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Mary Brennan with dealer Jay Jopling (right). (Photo courtesy PinchukArtCentre)

On the fourth floor, the figure of Saint Bartholomew, fully exposed with his skin draped over his arm, presides over the entrance to an installations of vitrines, butterfly pieces, and a series of smaller figurative paintings that depict the C-section birth of Hirst’s son. A Child’s Dream, the photogenic unicorn from the September auction, nestles in a nook in the garretlike fifth floor, tucked away with the polka-dot paintings like outgrown toys. And in the “tank” Hirst pairs his Death Denied with Death Explained, a bisected shark divided between two tanks, each of which is separated by a space large enough to give viewers a fuller appreciation of the animal’s inner workings (and the oddly gratifying sensation of people-watching through formaldehyde).

In the sixth-floor SkyArtCafe, Ukrainian art stars (and PinchukArtCentre regulars) Ilya Chichkan, Masha Shubina, Zhanna Kadyrova, and Sergey Bratkov offered tips for avoiding the irrationally stingy champagne pours. (Bratkov ordered two glasses at a time, while Kadyrova simply grabbed the bottle, flashing a sweet smile at the dreadlocked bartender.) Curators Daniel Birnbaum and Francesco Bonami were perpetually “just here a minute ago,” as was artist Andreas Gursky, who has developed something of a following in Kiev since his own exhibition in the space last September.

Soon after the SkyArtCafe hit capacity, guests were bussed to a dinner at Kiev’s Puppet Theatre, a hilltop palace that combines display windows of creepy wooden puppets with a grotto-themed garderobe and a ritzy rooftop patio. It took several loudspeaker announcements to redirect guests from the open bar on the roof to the small theater for the evening’s entertainment. Even then, guests were reluctant to commit to a seat, and people congregated in the aisles so as to better calculate which row Pinchuk might choose. (For the record, the collector took a PR-friendly seat in the very center, between Jeff Koons and Ukrainian enfant terrible Chichkan.)

Left: Duo Gurfinkel. Right: Tate director Nicholas Serota. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

The PinchukArtCentre has hosted concerts by Paul McCartney and Kraftwerk, and this round rumors were rampant that George Michael would perform—or perhaps at least the pop band the Hours, who had earlier been spotted hovering near the rooftop bar. With the austere announcement of a selection of classical requiems, the audience swallowed their disappointment (and the last of their champagne) and settled into their seats, putting on serious symphony faces. The first act, introduced as the Duo Gurfinkel, was a pair of adolescent twins who sported flowing locks and matching clarinets; they performed Prokofiev while bobbing up and down in their baggy suits. (“Big in Israel” was the word.) This act was followed by an unsettlingly emotive eight-year-old dressed in a pink chiffon princess dress singing “Ave Maria.” Despite her age, the accomplished little prodigy was clearly an old hand onstage, as indicated by her sweeping gestures and the wrought expressions troubling her tiny face in the pauses between trills.

Soon after, a full choir dressed in white and gold robes took the stage to perform Mozart’s Requiem, the evening’s final number. Projected behind them was a promotional video for Pinchuk’s charity Cradles of Hope, recently boosted by the sale of a painting donated by Hirst. Through some imaginative computer animation, Hirst’s skulls and iguana skeletons morphed into premature babies stretching out their limbs in the IC-unit cradles. This interpretation of the artist’s catalogue may not have had quite the intended effect, but it did render the audience speechless.

Left: Damien Hirst, Maia Norman, writer Sarah Thornton, and artist Jeff Koons. Right: Artist Dzine, Peter Doroshenko, artistic director of the PinchukArtCentre, and curator Pedro Alonso. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

The crowd eventually dispersed for dinner, dancing, and further distraction. Tate director Nicholas Serota, Gagosian’s Victoria Gelfand, and Stedelijk Museum director Gijs van Tuyl were all spotted skirting the edges of the dance floor, where a pop band put Ukrainian folk accents (read: lots of kicking and whooping) to covers of songs like “Hotel California.” Bianca Jagger chatted amiably with Koons and GCCC founder Dasha Zhukova, while onlookers cast covert glances to see whether Daniel Craig (whose arrival had triggered a wave of whispered “It’s Bond, James Bond!”s—which apparently never gets old) would try his hand at the whooping. Alas, no such luck.

As the official afterparty packed up, the truly steadfast bypassed familiar nightspots like Buddha Bar and Decadance and continued on to the Premiere Palace Casino. Following Hirst’s lead, Jopling, dealer Harry Blaine, artist Mat Collishaw, and curator Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst ponied up their passports and the five-hundred-dollar deposit required for entry, while those lacking foresight (or fortune) clustered in the bar outside, angling for unwanted passes from the disenchanted. For most, the process of getting in took longer than the time spent at the tables. One London dealer returned within five minutes, pushing his visibly diminished stack of chips toward one of his artists. “You can go ahead and try, but the only ones making any money are Jay and Damien.” He paused, then added, smiling: “No surprise there.”

Left: Serpentine codirector of exhibitions Hans Ulrich Obrist with Sir Norman Rosenthal. Right: Fondation Louis-Vuitton director Suzanne Pagé with artist Michael Craig-Martin. (Photos: Victor Barbariv)

Left: Artist Ilya Chichkan. Right: Haunch of Venison director Harry Blain. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: The Hours. Right: Artist Mat Collishaw. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Outside the PinchukArtCentre. Right: Dealer Stanislas Bourgain with artist Zhanna Khadyrova. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Dealers Matthew Bown and Natasha Sheiko. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: An attendee makes a spin painting. (Photo courtesy PinchukArtCentre)