In 1991 the art critic Louisa Buck rang me up – she was my sister-in-law and in those days we didn’t text – and said I really should go along to Bond Street and see the butterflies hatching in some disused premises that the artist Damien Hirst had rented. ‘It’s a truly beautiful installation,’ she enthused. She described it: the dishes of melting nectar, the chrysalises stuck to the walls, and the startling epiphanies as the creatures unfurled, fluttered – tropical, iridescent, huge, ineffable. I didn’t get there in the end, but not because I didn’t want to. Now the piece has been reconstructed in Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern, and for many reasons I wish I had seen the original version of In and Out of Love. It mattered then and it matters now that Hirst rented the space, a former travel agency, so that he could install his vision of natural beauty and the life cycle, there, in the heartland of platinum-plated consumerism and high fashion. Like one of the gorgeous brindled or turquoise insect mimics he hatched, he was taking colour from his surroundings and showing he could make exquisite artefacts, delicately skilful, each one unique, precious, rare: he could show how supremely wonderful a real creature is, more so than anything at Asprey or Prada or Cartier.
Damien Hirst, ‘Sympathy in White Major – Absolution II’ (2006).
LRB 5 July 2012 | PDF Download