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Damien Hirst


Friday, 1 June, 17.30-19.30
Senate Room, 1st Floor Senate House (Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU)

Luke White (Middlesex University): ‘Damien Hirst: The Capitalist Sublime?’

Damien Hirst is perhaps the absolute epitome of the capitalist artist. He is also a figure – in the bare objective terms of his economic and institutional success – who demands close attention as a cultural phenomenon: not, perhaps, an exemplary artist for our era, but certainly a deeply symptomatic and significant one. He is also a cultural producer who, whatever we may feel about his ethos, at his rare best has provided us with some of the art world’s most memorable, iconic images of recent decades. 

To better understand the Hirst phenomenon, this paper makes an analysis of his place within a long line of cultural producers who have been involved with the commercialised and commodified instantiations of art oriented to the sublime, a lineage stretching back to the modern (re-)discovery of this aesthetic in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It proposes that the sublime has been an aesthetic profoundly implicated in the rise of capital, and is intimately intertwined, in particular, with the highly liquid, ‘imperialist’ forms if this that characterise both the contemporary Neoliberal scene (of which Hirst might be imagined to be the court painter) and that of the eighteenth century alike. This paper seeks to define a Hirstean or capitalist sublime in which the fantasies of the modern, capitalist subject and its structuring experiences in the social and economic are reflected, formed and negotiated.

Luke White is Lecturer in Visual Culture and History of Art and Design at Middlesex University. His PhD was entitled ‘Damien Hirst and the Legacy of the Sublime in Contemporary Art and Culture’, and with Claire Pajaczkowska he was the editor of The Sublime Now (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

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