"I think it all looks fresh and new. ... I can be proud of it all. It feels strong, it feels sober, it feels exciting. I saw little kids running around yesterday and they were going 'Wow!'"
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Some critics, like Spalding, see Hirst as a remnant of a faintly distasteful pre-recessionary age, more concerned with money than with art.
That view is helped by an accident of timing.
In 2008, a Sotheby's auction of Hirst's work netted almost $200 million, a record for a living artist. The sale began on Sept. 15, 2008 — the day Lehman Brothers bank collapsed and the global economy tipped into crisis. That coincidence has made the auction seem like the end of a long economic, and art market, boom.
Commercial savvy is certainly on display in the exhibition's gift shop, where items on sale include polka-dot skateboards, butterfly wallpaper and a plastic skull priced at 36,000 pounds ($57,690).
Tate curator Ann Gallagher said she hopes the exhibition will give people a chance to look at Hirst's work afresh. She said she hopes visitors "will walk into the exhibition without any preconceptions — just look at the work for what it is and make their minds up."
And Hirst, having looked back to help assemble the current show, says he is once again focused on making new work.
"As an artist, I definitely think the work in the future is going to be a lot better than any of the work in the past," he said. "You have to think that way, or you wouldn't do it."
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.