A pink taxi

A pink taxi

August 1, 2010

Curating Monaco

I have walked past the Musee Oceanographique in Monte Carlo hundreds of times without walking in once. This summer Damien Hurst's exhibition drew me in.

I walked in with an open mind. If I don't care for oceanography, perhaps my sons do (one of them loves sailing).

I was surprised to find Damien Hirst's pocka-dot canvases there. I thought the exhibit would be simply be limited to sharks preserved in formaldehyde in rectangular boxes. That certainly was the common denominator between the artist and the museum.

The museum is grand, a reflection of the ambitions and passions of the Grimaldi princes. Damien Hirst chose his locale properly. Grandiose halls and staircases to hang larger than life canvases.

It was curated in an interesting manner. Hirst's works side by side with the permanent exhibits of ship maquettes, a true to size whale model, squeletons of large fish and maritime equipments. Besides his sharks, the artist's real fetish are butterflies. They also fit well in this museum, expanding oceanography with entomology.

Beautiful representations of butterflies made of the most delicate, colorful wings of real butterflies, splendidly lacquered into a powerful immense butterfly, could be found on these walls.  Master artistic entomologist, he has  kept the butterflies intact, pinning them in a long row next to identical ones in size and color, the row below a long row of beatles, under a long row of dragonflies (my favorites), above a long row of scorpions (my horoscope), I cannot remember the rest, just that the entirety was beautiful.

I have seen Damien Hirst's work here and there, in auction catalogs as well as up close in art fairs. Taken individually, or in smaller scales than the ones I saw at the Musee Oceanographique, I could not appreciate them (dismissing them as Mohsheri-like or dismissing Mohsheri as Hirst-like), perhaps because I never saw his best works, nor did I see a collection of this size curated in a living institution with as much foot traffic as this museum has. Now the medicine cabinets with surgical instruments looked artistic rather than like random objects. His installation of a white balloon floating over hot air and a dozen of kitchen knives entitled "pain" made me smile.

The families gathered in bunches in front of the aquariums and also in front of the permanent maritime collections of the museum. Few gazed upon the art of Damien Hirst, the fastest emerging artist I know. I visited at peak time, in july, at 3pm. Perhaps the art critics preceded me or will come in quieter september. Personally, Damien Hirst captured my admiration and the Principality of Monaco has earned my respect for curating such a beautiful collection in an original and popular setting.


  1. most people would not associate monaco with a visit to a museum..so i was astounded to find such a magnificent building and an amazing display of Hirst's work not seen by the public...it is worth the hike from the port parking area all the way to top of Monte Carlo...

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