The power of the artist-as-celebrity is currently in full effect at White Cube gallery’s Mason’s Yard branch, where Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition is nearing the end of its run. Hirst’s influence is such that the exhibition is spread over both of White Cube’s spaces simultaenously (the other being in Hoxton Square) and they are packed full with the usual Hirst-y imagery of birth, death and religion – a series of photo-realist paintings of the birth of Hirst’s youngest son Cyrus by Caesarean section adorn the walls in the upstairs gallery at Mason’s Yard, while the downstairs space has a dissected shark, cow and a sheep frolicking in formaldehyde.
But all these works pale into insignificance in comparison to the show’s main event: Hirst’s notoriously expensive diamond-studded skull sculpture, entitled For the Love of God. In fact, there seems barely any interest in the other works when I visit, while getting near For the Love of God feels like something of a military operation. Being certain of a chance to see it requires booking ahead online (although the gallery is making some tickets available on the day as well), and even then you can look forward to a half-an-hour queue to gain entry. If you didn’t already know of its value (a snip at £50 million to buy, it contains £15 million worth of diamonds) it is clear when you arrive – the queue is patrolled by a selection of upper class bouncers, wearing fancy suits and “don’t mess” expressions, who check bags and communicate discreetly with each other via microphones up their sleeves before solemnly ushering you sheep-like into the building when your turn finally arrives.
After all this, the artwork itself can only be a disappointment. The room it’s held in feels more like a jewellery store than a gallery space, with the lighting dimmed to give the diamonds the maximum glistening effect. This makes the skull beautiful in an odd sort of way, and it does draw comparisons with ancient religious offerings, but ultimately its more powerful message appears to be one more about the empty centre of modern celebrity. And, even more obviously, it is a tale about commerce. Hirst of course knows this, hinting as much in his titling of both the work and the show itself – Beyond Belief.
Damien Hirst: Beyond Belief will continue at White Cube until July 7. www.whitecube.com