The sea is an endless and mesmerising source of inspiration for creative minds. Its vastness, its variety and its mystery are endlessly stimulating. For after all the ocean remains almost entirely unknown: man has only explored an estimated 10% of it.
This week is the last chance to see ‘The Big Blue’ exhibition at Ordovas. Conceived by Damien Hirst and curated by Ordovas the show aims to explore the influence of the sea on art. With works ranging from a fragment of a Roman sarcophagus from the 2nd century AD, right up to one of Hirst’s own sharks in formaldehyde, the exhibition includes some extraordinary pieces. The gallery space is markedly limited in comparison to the ambitious scale of the subject and the magnitude of the artists represented. Accordingly the works are crammed onto one wall in the style of a cabinet of curiosities or some kind of sea-themed ‘mood board’. All but Hirst’s Heaven, which is given pride of place in the centre of the gallery space.
It should be noted that after all the criticism Hirst has received, and justly, over the last few years, his sharks remain surprisingly powerful. It is still extraordinary to be faced with the gaping mouth of a real shark. Yet, there is of course an off-putting arrogance to its placement as the centrepiece that binds together the works.
Individually the works are truly great. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s North Pacific Ocean, Ohkurosaki perfectly evokes the silent horror of a calm ocean: its endlessness mute emptiness. Likewise Francis Bacon’s Figure in Sea is filled with dread: a dark sea laps at the contorted naked back of a faceless man. There is a sense of real menace in its mystery. Bacon himself was inspired by the work of Gustave Courbet who also features in the exhibition with the painting Paysage de mer showing a depopulated sea stretching to the horizon painted in emphatic, thick strokes like waves.
Despite the strength of these works individually, overall the exhibition simply does not hang together. The ocean is a theme as infinite and fascinating as its subject, and yet the grouping feels undeveloped. In particular the inclusion of Yves Klein’s IKB 127 is perplexing. How much does that beautiful, synthetic blue really have to do with the ocean?