How extraordinary, then, that the six-room exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art that launches Anthony d’Offay’s nationwide “Artist Rooms” series is the first Hirst solo show in a British museum. Including modern and contemporary work valued at £125m, Artist Rooms is the largest gift of art to the nation in a century. To open with Hirst is symbolic for the project, connecting it with the latest, sexiest living art, but is also significant for the artist. Combining wow-factor works such as the unnerving double-mirrored cabinets of fish and skeletons, “Something for Nothing”, with more modest pieces from the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection, such as an early spin painting, it allows us to grasp the arc of his oeuvre with a new clarity.
The sparsely arranged rooms at the bright, airy, neo-classical Modern Art Gallery invite calm, sober engagement with Hirst’s work in the light not of spiralling prices but of history. Hirst holds his own within the grand setting, which underlines his rigour and how his clean, austere aesthetic throws into relief his brutish subject matter. [ . . . ] it is a masterstroke to juxtapose the spot painting with a monochrome quartet of lightbox close-ups of pills, “Painkillers”, and the 1981 photograph of a laughing 16-year-old Damien Hirst “With Dead Head”: a tragic-comic trio of melancholy and romance. In quality, range and persuasive installation, these six rooms make up a landmark small retrospective that acknowledges Hirst’s importance but also, perhaps, will liberate younger artists from him by fixing him historically.
Damien Hirst Without the Glitz (Financial Times)