From being one of the Young British Artists (YBAs) to winning the Turner Prize, Damien Hirst is among the most controversial artists alive. Opinions on his works range from mind-bending revolutionary to extravagant horrors that symbolize everything that is wrong with the art world. Keeping in line with his erratic image, his latest work only spurs more debate.
Hirst has designed a suite at Las Vegas’ The Palms Casino Resort, which costs $100,000 for a night. In tune with his contrariness and Vegas’ flashiness, the Empathy Suite is defined and experienced as ‘a Hirst’, with all his branding. It consists of a theatre, a pool and massage facilities, among other over-the-top amenities. The experience amalgamates luxury, brilliant hospitality, and is chock-full of Hirst’s art, and furniture designed by him, that might sit just as elaborately at the Tate Modern.
Among the art is his signature butterflies scattered all over the suite, including his Casino Royal. Graphic, oversized pills dot the full suite, including Money, perhaps alluding to his earlier drug abuse. Numerous formaldehyde sharks in different configurations, including Winner/Loser, The Unknown (Explored, Explained, Exploded) and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living adorn the suite. Also installed is The Winner Takes All, a cased wall studded with diamonds.
It is well established that the suite is a luxurious, extravagant experience for the richest customers, promising exclusivity and an art experience that one can sleep in. The art of the experience is further highlighted by the venue itself. The Palms Casino Resort has been acquiring other Hirst works as well, most notably his Demon with Bowl, a hulking 60-foot sculpture. The resort also boasts artwork by other renowned artists, including Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, branding itself a hotspot of contemporary art in Las Vegas. Placed alongside these, the suite as an artwork resembles movement towards the new, the post-post-modern movement.
The question remains whether this is a new artistic turn in Hirst’s career where he aims at expanding the definition of immersive art; or a type of elaborate performance art full of deliberate irony.
Finally, Hirst hasn’t explained the suite beyond commenting on what a privilege it has been to design and fill the suite with his art. All other contemplation lies with the viewer and different perspectives are all we have as an explanation. As Jerzy Kosinski once said, “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.”