Also in idyllic, if contrived, rural landscape, is Houghton Hall in north west Norfolk (about which I blogged last summer when Richard Long was the exhibiting artist). The Hall and its park remain impeccable; the walled garden alone continues to be worth the visit. This year the exhibiting artist is Damien Hirst: though familiar with some of his pieces from much publicised images, I’ve not previously seen his work en masse. Here it was both indoors and out.
In the Hall a whole suite of rooms on the first floor, still with their traditional furniture and fittings, played host to dozens of Hirst’s ‘spot’ paintings. Where you expected family portraits to be staring down at you rather arrogantly or faintly disapprovingly, instead hundreds of balls danced on the walls:
And whereas one might well have expected total dissonance, I found the intruders looked quite at home. I think this was largely because there was such a range of colours in the spots that many of them at picked up rather than clashed with the range of colours of the ‘country house setting.’ But of course the whole thing, so I took it, is ironic: mechanical-looking, mass-produced modern ‘art’ where mind and eye expected the Seventh Earl of Blogsworth and a Canaletto or two. It’s quite a good joke to begin with but both mind and eye have wearied by the seventh roomy repetition and beyond.
The sculptures indoors range from the absurd to the ‘classical’ :
The former really is trying to pull wool before your eyes while the latter, ‘Anatomy of an Angel’ (2008), illustrates the title exactly by showing over half the statue the inside workings of the less than ethereal body.
This is a technique, message, trick – it is all three – which characterizes most of the Hirst sculptures in the surrounding park. I’ll illustrate them briefly in another post.