I set out a few weeks ago to create an itinerary for the Damien Hirst Spot Challenge, financially suitable for a couple of creative culture vultures (or as some have called ‘underemployed hipsters’). The thought of traveling around the world to see all 11 Gagosian Spot Painting shows intrigued me, not because I am a huge fan of the work (but I kind of am), but more because I love travel for its own sake (and I’m super-competitive).
My brother Bobby, and I grew up flying a lot because my father worked for Continental Airlines. We no longer can fly for free, but spur of the moment trips to Europe were a family perk that gave us both the traveling bug. As an adult, I’ve traveled around the world 5 times for work and pleasure (my brother flew almost 350,000 miles in 2011, circumnavigating the globe 14 times). Travel is in the Bostic blood. I don’t get jet-lag. I pack well. I’ve eaten in many sketchy street markets and never gotten food poisoning. I have a Rimowa Topas Titanium suitcase. These are all things I’m disproportionately proud of. I even sometimes secretly fantasize about being a contestant on the Amazing Race (don’t judge me).
The thought of doing the Spot Challenge (they had me at “Challenge”) as cheaply (and fashionably) as possible was sparked off by Felix Salmon’s oligarchical itinerary. Rather than emphasize the bourgeois, I went for BoBo (bourgeois-bohemian). Think of Damien Hirst as he appeared on the Charlie Rose Show: Wearing a rhinestone skull encrusted jacket. All flash. I pictured myself fashionably cozied up in Coach Class wearing budget cashmere Uniqlo leggings and my silk Pucci eyemask.
Anyone who completes the Challenge will receive a personalized Spot Print (estimated at between $3,500 and $50,000). Something I would shamelessly hang in my house like a prized hunting trophy. Not as a memento mori to the death of art, but because I have always regretted not buying a Hirst Spot Print. I almost bought Methamphetamine when I had the chance 7 years ago. I instead invested that money in the stock market — and will forever regret having chosen the tech bubble and not the art bubble.
I officially registered for the challenge last weekend and so far attended the two shows in Chelsea. I’m a downtown girl who cringes at the thought of traveling above 25th Street (I prefer Brooklyn to Midtown, but am planning to make the trek to Madison Avenue next week).
After all the hate that was heaped on the work by critics (in the papers, magazines, on blogs, Twitter, next to me at bars…) I was prepared to be disappointed. But walking into the first Gagosian gallery in Chelsea kind of blew me away. I’ve seen spot paintings before, but always surrounded by other art. Seeing a clean landscape of spots within a such a grand white space — varying in size from one millimeter to over 60 inches in diameter — wasn’t anything like the wallpaper and toilet paper I had heard them likened to. It was extraordinary. The thought that over 1,500 of these paintings exist and more are on the way, didn’t make me angry or dismissive, it made me love Hirst — like Rainman or Steve Jobs.
Being a graphic designer, I was most interested in the paintings with the greatest density of dots, placed on a grid. I found myself looking at them like text pages in a book — but in a new language of Pantone dingbats. That perhaps somehow hidden within the colors, there is a legend you can break. Evidently the colors are non-repeating, which I believe and am impressed by (anyone who has ever dealt with custom color mixing knows that 25,000 individual colors is a recipe for pain and heartbreak). Harder to believe is the notion that the colors are also placed at random. But when I stepped back and allowed the dots to become a halftone, the overall effect was an even, all-over field. I saw what typographers call ‘rivers’ and ‘canyons’. These are the fractures that run through carelessly set justified typography (that, unsurprisingly, look like rivers and canyons). But, these ‘rivers’ were surprisingly minor. And I didn’t see any dark or light clusters; No islands or holes — the sort of true randomness I’d expect. Instead what I saw were paintings that reflected a great deal of careful design.
Seeing the spot-themed items in the gift shop, however, struck me as a ‘jump the shark’ moment. It could have been an opportunity to play on the modernist tradition of De Stijl, Constructivism and Charles and Ray Eames; making available “The best, for the least, for the most.” But sadly, it reminded me of designer Jonathon Adler’s toilet paper roll covers for Cottonelle; a cheap, lame-brained and ill-conceived licencing scheme that detracted and distracted from project’s aura of genius-savant.
According to a snarky expose on ArtIfo, the ‘winner’ of the Spot Challenge was Valentine Uhovski, a former child star and “cryto-socialite” (not to be obtuse, aren’t all socialites cryto-socialite?). Uhovski finished the ‘race’ in 8 days, covering over 30,000 miles. He was photographed wearing a spot painting t-shirt with Damien Hirst himself. I never considered this challenge a race. Part of the intrigue of the trip for me was to see more than just gallery after gallery. To stay in hip, chic, budget hotels (of course swiping the good bath products they give you). Take photographs. See sights. Eat local food. And endlessly update my Facebook and Twitter profiles with photographs of myself mugging in a “I Spot DH” t-shirt all over the world (we agreed, you wouldn’t judge). And in the end, I imagined looking up at my personalized spot painting trophy and be reminded of my adventure. But when I saw someone else completed the Challenge, I was pissed. Like I said, I’m competitive.
The itinerary I worked out is pretty swanky, and as a self-diagnosed adventure travel addict, I am very tempted to pack my bag and jump on a plane. My international adapters are always ready to go. But I’ve decided not complete the challenge. I keep imagining worse case scenarios of being written up in the New York Times Style section wearing my Spot t-shirt. Or of having my Google vanity searches dominated by ‘Damien Hirst Spot Challenge Winner’ for the rest of my life.
My original post went a bit viral. My itinerary, no doubt inspired some of the trips that will be completed in the coming weeks. The ability to grasp that Golden Ticket, even if you are not a millionaire art collector, is what I think made people dream about making the trip. Here are some of the sites that linked to the original post: