Most galleries or museums prohibit eating or drinking for the sake of the safety and protection of valuable objects they contain. By a similar token, touching the objects is strictly forbidden. How must it feel, then, to enter the space that doubles as a work of art and a restaurant?
Just ask visitors to Damien Hirst’s reincarnated Pharmacy 2 at Newport Street Gallery. When the controversial artist first opened his original Pharmacy in 1997 with an A-list crowd, he climbed the rankings of the day’s hottest artists and ones-to-watch. The “sequel” (as the Daily Beast calls it) that reopened this week, though, fell as flat as many sequels do. In the words of the article, “it is notoriously difficult for a sequel to recapture the original magic, and unfortunately Damien Hirst is not about to become the London restaurant scene’s Godfather.” While the space incorporates the most startling and impressive features contained in the original Notting Hill location, the same fervor and hype that surrounded that opening was far from reach this time around.
Regardless of the space’s sometimes-questionable cohesiveness and odd menu features, the artist subverts the stereotypical role of and etiquette required in a gallery. The first Pharmacy more effectively threw people off guard and stimulated conversation, while Pharmacy 2 appeals more to a crowd just looking for a quick and solid bite. But for each setting, Hirst subjects the viewer (or diner, in this case) to a new experience, confronting them with objects that intimidate them both by their artistic purpose and their sterile, medicinal usages. And while one couple noted their satisfaction with the meal, I can’t help but wonder if the food, and for all intents and purposes the art itself, is a bit less savory considering what surrounds it and constitutes it.