Damien Hirst, Let’s Eat Outdoors Today (1990-91)

One way to define contemporary art may be to include anything which provokes the reaction: “That’s not art!” And Damien Hirst is certainly no stranger to this reaction.

But the genius of this previously unseen work is that when it asks, ‘Why can’t this be art?’ as it surely does, the immediate response is it contains things-we-do-not-want-to-look-at.

There’s a severed bovine head on the floor of the tank and no doubt tens of thousands of fat black flies. There’s a half eaten barbecue. But people do look at it. They stare for ages.

Retinal art is back with a vengeance, and it bears consideration that even the first readymade was selected by Duchamp on account of the fact he found the movement ‘pleasant.’

Hirst demonstrates here that visually appealing art need not even be pleasant. However, the grandeur of the work cannot be denied and even his detractors will be drawn in by the flies.

Let’s Eat Outdoors Today is a feast for the eyes and this needs to be addressed. It throws into question how we look at art, and the wider world, and what we might be looking for.

PS: Taking the artist at his word and judging by this interview (with Alistair Sooke in The Telegraph), you might also say this work celebrates the “beauty” of decay and death.

You can see Let’s Eat Outdoors Today in Modern British Sculpture at the Royal Academy until 7 April 2011.

Read Adrian Searle’s review in the Guardian here and Jonathan Brown in The Independent here. Also check out The Daily Mail coverage of Hirst’s piece, always interesting(!)

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