Reason Gives No Answers (Newport Street Gallery, SE11)

‘Reason Gives No Answers’ is an exhibition of works from Damien Hirst’s personal collection. It is a selection of over 50 artworks by more than 30 artists including both established and emerging names. I’m going to dissect the exhibit by analysing the works of two big names and two smaller names and why Hirst might have chosen to include them in his curation.

The first piece on the ground floor was Gary Hume’s ‘Hospital Doors’. I’ve seen and wrote about them before, Hume notably exhibited them in 1988 at Hirst’s show ‘Freeze’ which initiated the Young British Artist era. The panels are cut to measurements taken from hospital doors. They are, in my eyes, as close to real life functioning door’s as you could get without being doors. It incites the eternally thought-provoking question, when does something start and stop becoming art? Hume typically uses household gloss paint for its reflective qualities, saying that 'the high-gloss finish starts to have a life of its own because it reflects the environment the paintings are shown in they make you think about light and about where the paintings begin and end' (quoted in 'Brilliant', p.45).

Upstairs sits Frank Benson’s ‘Chocolate Fountain’ which is polished to be unimaginably reflective, so reflective that it appears to be in motion. Theatrical deception is a big part of Hirst’s own work. Notably in the piece ‘A Thousand Years’ (which I talk about here) in which the cows head is a replica for the sake of practicality. Hirst isn’t bothered about truth to materials. Talking about his own work, Hirst says that “I want you to be amazed twice. Once you’re amazed because it seems impossible, and then you’re amazed because it’s fucking easy. That’s what I like” and thus it’s obvious why Benson’s fountain is here. The apparent invitation to try and disturb their flow is overwhelming. These sculptures are static, abruptly frozen, always resisting the viewer’s intervention. There’s something about this work which says: things always seem better further away. Distance is deceptive.

In the room next door is ‘New Hoover Convertibles’ by Jeff Koons, an artist most comparable to Hirst. Like Benson’s ‘Chocolate Fountain’, this work refuses viewer intervention. In this case, with an irony reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp. Koons placed brand-new vacuum cleaners in a sterile, fluorescent-lit vitrine that protects them from the dirt they are designed to remove. Like Duchamp and Hume, Koons removes the objects function and thus makes us question our assumptions of what constitutes art. We are forced to see the object in a purely visual way.

The last work I’m going to write about are the big pens by Johannes Albers. I don’t know the works formal title, but that’s what they are. Big pens. Unlike all the others, I haven’t researched this work before and I don’t know the artists statement or intention, but that’s totally fine. I’ve often wondered why big things are interesting. Even if they’re everyday objects, but bigger, they generate interest. As seen here and in the work of Claes Oldenburg. We are captivated by things that tower over us, perhaps its primitive. Big = powerful, danger. Small = weak, irrelevant. But it is undeniable that everyday objects blown up in size welcome new interpretations. I explored this in a work of my own titled ‘Helter Skelter’ which is a macro photo of a screw.

What’s consistent through all of the selected works in this show is Hirst’s ideas on the dynamic between art and reality. The art here encourages a conversation about when art starts, and life stops. They are also, like Hirst’s own work, appropriately big, bold and well executed.