Review of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Damien Hirst: Candy at Blain | Southern, London

The surprisingly captivating marriage of Gonzalez-Torres and Hirst sounds like a much worse idea than it actually is. Take an endless, amorphous, intellectually charged installation by a brilliant dead conceptual artist, and pair it with some second-rate paintings by a living conceptual artists who is better known for the depth of his wealth than of his work, and you have the perfect show for Frieze.

Frieze week is always a good opportunity to do something spectacular or insane. The international art world is in town and has money to burn, so you can get away with all manner of craziness, just so long as it is sufficiently expensive. But it would be too easy and utterly banal to put on a Hirst show that would sell out before the ink has dried on the press release, so Blain | Southern had the frankly ingenious idea of pairing him with someone with whom he has nothing, intellectually speaking, in common, but in whose work Hirst finds a glittering visual counterpart.

Hirst presents, for the first time exclusively together, his Visual Candy Paintings, which are mucky oil paint splodges of varying sizes on canvas, a bit like a squashed Spot Painting. He says they are the exorcism of some trauma suffered at Goldsmiths when a tutor told him his paintings looked like curtain designs, whereupon Hirst decided that he would gleefully paint pictures that were pure visual candy. Gonzalez-Torres presents Untitled (1992), hundreds of candies individually wrapped in brightly coloured cellophane, strewn across the floor and piled up in impossible mountains. The idea behind the work is to learn to let go of the idea of permanence, since the work has be replenished as the candies are taken and consumed by the audience, so the form is in a constant state of flux.

The Hirst works, with titles like Happiness (1993-1994), are abstract depictions of mood-enhancing drugs, but they are conceptually weak and visually repellent compared to Spot Paintings and Pill Cabinets. And that is coming from someone who makes a living out of defending Hirst. By contrast, the Gonzalez-Torres could stand alone in its brilliance: it is fun, interactive, formally fluid, visually stunning and is a clever reproach to an artworld obsessed with commodity.

An understanding and appreciation of this show depends entirely upon the conjunction of its two parts. The conceptual link between them is the idea of substances that elevate the mood, but that is not so apparent as the simple, visual fact of the explosion of colour on the walls and floor. This exhibition not only gives an opportunity to see a relatively obscure Hirst series and a work by the brilliant and sometimes underrated Gonzalez-Torres, but it also injects a huge dose of fun into Frieze week.

Shut out the noise from the suspicion that only Gonzalez-Torres can manage to sell some mediocre Hirsts, and here you have a literally delicious show of ostentation that makes a multi-sensory feast which is genuinely fun for the whole family.

Daniel Barnes

Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Damien Hirst: Candy, 16 October until 30 November, Blain | Southern, London, 4 Hanover Square, London, W1S 1BP.


1. Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Damien Hirst: Candy, Installation Shot, 2013. Photo: Louis Shadwick
2. Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Damien Hirst: Candy, Installation Shot, 2013. Photo: Matthew Hollow