Review: ‘Educating Damien’ at The Tetley

By December 23, 2014

Art & Photography. Leeds.

[Images credited to David Lindsay]

As such a celebrated provocateur, the education and early creative development of Damien Hirst seems to be of wider interest than that of any other artist working today, from speculation of his notorious under achievement in art at school, right through to his recognised time at Goldsmiths and the formation of the Young British Artists. This exhibition sets out to focus on his time spent studying in Leeds at the Jacob Kramer College, (now Leeds College of Art) during the academic year of 1983-4. Presented and co-curated by educator, writer and art historian Glyn Thompson, Educating Damien offers to the public for the first time a personal archive of Thompson’s lecture notes and 35mm slides used during compulsory History of Art and Drawing modules at the college from that year.

A selection of charcoal drawings produced by ‘a student’ (Hirst?); archaic material of lecture notes and slides plus several Damien Hirst catalogues and books; a collection of 96 “pithy maxims” from Thompson and various artists, philosophers, musicians and writers; an interactive timeline/ongoing research project charting the history of art education in Leeds; a drawing studio in which visitors can draw directly from objects selected from the Artforms Artemis collection. And so we have a show that is incredibly varied and thought-provoking. “Creative genius is merely the crest of a wave “ and “A painting which doesn’t shock isn’t worth painting” are just two of the notions that will surround you throughout the exhibition. Plus the opportunity to get involved is appealing; draw from the stimuli in the studio or add your own knowledge and experience of art education in Leeds to the timeline- though most of the credible contributions were written in the same handwriting (!); but you’ll be pleased to know that when Damien Hirst discovered cheese, he thought it was very good.

Educating Damien is undoubtedly an interesting and potentially enlightening and revealing prospect.

Somewhat deflated however is Educating Damien* *and others. Not that ‘the others’ aren’t of interest, but as a show which uses the promise of an insight into Damien’s education, it underwhelms and bemuses. What we have instead, is Educating a Student Cohort, one of whom Happened to be Damien Hirst.

This anticlimactic realisation makes the show difficult to place and conceptualise. With a seemingly conflicting focus, is it about teaching or learning? Are the drawings in gallery 1 a celebration of students’ work or a celebration of Thompson’s teaching methods? Seemingly less focussed on Hirst as a student, is it more about Thompson as an educator? Is it about the consumption of material and influence? Perhaps the headline Educating Damien is simply a contextualising device, merely alluding to the time during which the above material was negotiated. Given that Hirst is more of a coincidental connection here, the academic year around which the show revolves loses it’s sense of central significance as too does Leeds as a host to the magic. In a whirlwind of self-promotion, Educating Damien And Others quickly descends into 96 pithy reminders to the muggle world of what we’ve missed by not attending Jacob Kramer College. The result is a bizarre space that feels not too far removed from a parents’ evening or university open day.

What is on display is undeniably very interesting and engaging; the question is why is it there; why was the exhibition format considered to be the most suitable way to represent this information? Perhaps a publication of some sort would have been more appropriate, with a couple of pages reflecting on Mr Hirst.

Educating Damien.Glyn Thompson. Credit David Lindsay 5 (267x400)
[Image credited to David Lindsay]

Dan Newton


Educating Damien**and others is at The Tetley from the 14th November 2014 – 9th January 2015. For more information visit the Tetley’s website.

It is supported by Arts Council England, Leeds City Council, Wild Pansy Press, The University of Leeds, Leeds Museums and Galleries and Artforms Artemis.



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