Damien Hirst @ Tate Modern

Damien Hirst @ Tate Modern

London’s world-famous Tate Modern gallery hosted the first major exhibition of the works of Damien Hirst, the celebrated 46 year old artist, whose 1990s works were among the decade’s most seminal. It covers 24 years of his career and is dissected into different phases and includes some 70 major pieces.

Hirst agreed to something his younger self had always refused: a full retrospective, at London’s venerable Tate Modern gallery. “Screw that, I’d never show at the Tate” he says he once insisted to no less a pal than David Bowie. “That’s for dead artists.” …    Hirst now adds “I also said I didn’t trust people who didn’t smoke and then I gave up.”

Since he was first catapulted into public attention in 1988 when he conceived and curated an influential exhibition of works in a disused ware house in London by himself and his fellow Goldsmith College students, Damien Hirst became internationally renowned and one of the most prominent and influential British contemporary artists.

“People don’t like contemporary art but all art starts life as contemporary – I can’t really see a difference. Michelangelo was definitely getting that, everybody was getting it. I’m sure there were people in caves going, ‘I like your cave but I hate that crap you’ve got on the wall’.

Most of the works from the mid-Nineties onwards, though, reflect a descent into repetition and gimmickry, as Hirst’s art develops into a brand and the man becomes a corporation as much as an artist. The often controversial artist, whose central theme in his works is death, is, according to the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List, the richest living British artist, with a fortune of £215 million

He said of his show: “I am proud of it. It all feels strong and sober. You fear that it’s going to be dusty, in cobwebs and meaningless like a lot of stuff in this world.” …. “It seems more about life than death to me. It’s optimistic, fun, full of beans. I definitely expected it to be shabbier.” …  ” its a map of my life ! ”

The ongoing controversy surrounding Hirst stems from four issues:

(1) Differences of opinion concerning the aesthetic or intrinsic artistic worth of his artworks.

(2) His use of shocking, sensationalist materials in his works.

(3) Allegations of price manipulation and questionable business practices.

(4) The fact that he is very rich, and no doubt the subject of envy by many artists and critics.

Damien Hirst is curated by Ann Gallagher, Head of Collections (British Art), Tate, with Loren Hansi Momodu, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern and is coordinated by Sophie McKinlay, Project Manager, Tate Modern.

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.”

The Damien Hirst exhibition was part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Movements.

Spread over four years, the Cultural Olympiad gives everyone the chance to be involved in London 2012 as well as inspiring creativity across all forms of culture.

The Tate Modern Damien Hirst exhibition opened on April 4th 2012 and ran until September 9th ( the final day of the London 2012 Paralympics.)

Hirst’s body of work confronts the scientific, philosophical and religious aspects of human existence and includes sculpture, painting, drawing and printmaking.

At Tate director Nicholas Serota’s insistence, it all begins with work from the Freeze art show Hirst mounted in 1988 when at Goldsmiths which helped launch the YBA generation.

“It starts with embarrassment and ends with hope,” is Hirst’s description of the progress from his student art to the lucrative Sotheby’s sale of 2008.

Although his business acumen is as debated as his art, some of his early efforts did not sell. But he said it was always about value, not money.

“I’m lucky, I can still say that art is more important than money although there have been times when I have been scared about that. The auction was one of those times when I thought, ‘Oh my God, what if it goes wrong?’

“But one way that you can get people to look at art is if you attach money to it. And money is an important thing because so many people don’t have it.”

Hirst said he hoped his work would be relevant in 200 years but the excitement lay in the effort.

“I’ve never stopped trying. I used to wash pots in a restaurant in Leeds. So I look at things now, and think, ‘Jesus Christ I’ve come a long way,’ ” he said.

“A lot of people have dreams and ambitions and they don’t achieve them. I managed to get a show at the Saatchi Gallery just after art school and it was magical and I’ve managed to get a show at Tate. I’m a very lucky guy.”

He does not intend to stop now. “It’s a mid-career retrospective,” he stresses. But he hopes to win more fans. “I don’t mind whether people like my work or hate it as long as they don’t ignore it. But I hope more people will like it than don’t.”


It was one of the most anticipated shows in the Art World. No one can deny the fact that his pieces are charged and despite the love and hate relationship many people have when exposed to his art, no one can say that his work will leave them indifferent.

The exhibition featured a selection of Hirst’s work that enabled the spectator to unknowingly engage with each of the rooms and immerse themselves in a mesmerising experience that culminated in a feeling of lucidity.

The exhibition was everything one would expect: repetitive, boring, sometimes aesthetically pleasing, often absurd. As far as a pop art shows could go, this was a great one. It was glossy, shiny, bold, colourful and arrogant in an accessible way.

Galleries were brightly lit, with most wall painted pristine “gallery white”, making the artwork’s bold clinical sharpness and stark presence shine out loud.

The show was beautifuly curated, well-thought and had a culminating effect that pleases the viewer and creates an anticipation of what is going to come next.

The organisation was roughly chronological, at least through the first few rooms gathering some of his early pieces.

The 14 rooms were full of splashes of vibrant colour, and forceful reminders of death. Birth, death and the preservation for the ‘afterlife’ keeps on setting the tone throughout the exhibition

Order of the Tour around the Gallery

As soon as you walk into the entrance of the exhibition a weird smell fills the nostrils – the smell of death and decay is all pervading !

1) Early Works

What Goes Up Must Come Down 1994

The first room starts with the artist’s early works, a room which is of major importance as by the end of the show you realise both the artistic development of Hirst and his maturity as his career progresses.

It allows you to see early examples of Hirst exploring his early ideas and recurring themes.

This first Spot painting was made in 1986, the year Hirst joined Goldsmiths to study fine art after a year working on London building sites.

Although the piece contains the seeds of all the spot paintings to come, it’s much messier, almost expressionist with its dribbling blots of paint competing for attention on their uneven white background.

It was done using household gloss on board, the circles splodgy and running, the palate limited. It lacks the forethought of the later spot paintings and is somehow more energetic and endearing as a result. The spots are not aligned and they are not perfect.

Whilst Hirst is synonymous with clinical detachment it wasn’t always the case.

Hirst hadn’t yet started to work according to a precise grid; the color is raw, defeating composition and discipline. “The thing that was causing me problems in painting was color, finding a structure where I could lay it down, be in control of it rather that it controlling me,” Hirst has said. “Once I’d done that, I didn’t really have problems with color any more.”

In this very first room, the viewer also sees ” 8 Pans”  1987 – series of kitchen pans, their bottoms brightly painted, hang in a row on the wall, and become another spot work, while glossy cardboard boxes cluster in a corner.

As Hirst let go his ambition to be a painter in the Modern British tradition, he started to make collages of found knick-knacks on boards. Michael Craig-Martin, who was Hirst’s tutor at the time, advised him to get rid of the board and hang his finds directly on the wall.

“8 Pans” is steeped in the influence of Jeff Koons, whose “Hoovers” Hirst had seen at Charles Saatchi‘s first gallery on Boundary Road. So impressed was Hirst with the space that he now claims that from then on he was “making art for there.

And the piece “Kitchen Cupboard” 1987 made in the same year

1988 is the year the Young British Artists were officially born with the “Freeze” exhibition Hirst curated in a warehouse tarted up to resemble the Saatchi Gallery.

Hirst presented his boxes hung near the ceiling, at once paying homage to and cocking a snook at art history from constructivism to minimalism.

The boxes are made of cardboard, and were considered unsellable as a sculpture.

During the press preview Hirst revealed himself to be rather embarrassed by some of the works in the first room of the exhibition. 8 Pans in particular, a piece from 1987 which consists of eight pans coated in glossy household paint of different colours and hang straight on the wall, seems to be his least favourite.

Spin Paintings

The spin paintings, made by pouring household gloss paint onto a rotating canvas to produce energetic bursts of overlapping psychedelic colour, are the most pointless of Hirst’s output.

As a defence mechanism, and in an apparent attempt to deflect criticism, one of the spin paintings on show at the Tate is called, ” Beautiful, childish, expressive, tasteless, not art, over simplistic, throw away, kids’ stuff, lacking in integrity, rotating, nothing but visual candy, celebrating, sensational, inarguably beautiful painting (for over the sofa)” 1996.

Hirst’s title tells you what you should think, he demonstrates that he knows what people have said or will say about these works but simply doesn’t care.

Spot Paintings

As you move to the next room you come across his iconic Spot Paintings.

The spots are well-rounded, ordered and well proportioned. It is in these rooms that Hirst’s experimentation with colours becomes obvious. What at first seems like a canvas full of colourful dots, then is seen as an ode to structure, precision and uniformity.

The Spot Paintings are one of the artist’s most recognisable series of paintings, being described by Hirst as ‘a scientific approach to painting’.

The ubiquitous Spot Paintings — of which there are some 1,500, with the production line still working at full pelt — were first produced in 1986, more than a quarter of a century ago.

Hirst himself now has no hand in them — they are the product of assistants given only the simple instruction to keep the colours of the spots entirely random with no perceptible sequence.

To justify this workshop practice he raises the ghost of Rubens — but not even the most wretched apprentice in 17th-century Antwerp was still producing in 1635 precisely what Rubens had painted in 1610; nor would Rubens have charged so much for a painting not even touched by his hand.

Rubens’ charged according to a tariff that recognised the difference in value between work executed entirely by himself, by himself and assistants, by assistants with an improving touch or two by the great man, and entirely by assistants of varying levels of competence..

The spots are precision placed, the spaces between them equal to the diameter of the spots themselves, and no colour is repeated, though there are variations of the same colour.

Hirst’s obsession with these (there are now over 8000 of them) indicates his, and our, obsession with the medicalisation of daily life.

All of these works indicate a desire, Hirst says, to use colour in a way that he can control, rather than feeling controlled by it, and this desire drives the development of the spot paintings into the pharmaceutical series that are shown in the rest of the exhibition.

These are named after chemicals used for medical purposes, or as fertilizers, many of which have poisonous properties.

Like his pharmacy installations, they point to our attempt to stave off death for as long as possible, which is part of the human condition, and illustrate our faith in medical science which has, for a lot of people, replaced faith in God.

“Pharmacy,” 1992

“Pharmacy” is a logical development of his medicine cabinet series, blown up to the scale of a whole chemist’s shop. Hirst is said to have been deeply affected by his mother’s unshakable faith in the power of medications — as well as their ultimate inability to prevent death. The colored vessels filled with bright liquid on the counter suggest the elements: earth, air, fire, and water, a way for Hirst to mix up scientific and pagan systems of belief.

The pharmacies themselves range in size and scope from bathroom cabinet scale to whole rooms.

Some of them contain clusters of drugs that are used to treat particular conditions, others are based on Hirst’s family experience – using his grandmother’s personal prescriptions – and they all bring to mind the desire to make life and death as clean and painless as possible, as polished as the stainless steel implements ranged in large display cases.

They also become like museums, alchemists’ laboratories, or apothecaries’ lairs, but as a recurring theme it is diluted by repetition and so loses its power rather than intensifying it

A whole room is dedicated to Pharmacy, his major installation from 1992 which unfortunately appears tired after having already seen quite a few of the earlier medicine cabinets in the previous rooms.

The pharmaceutical cupboards and vitrines too reach back to Hirst’s student years — the first, Sinner and Enemy, were produced in 1988 and ten more were made within a year, four of them exhibited in his graduate show of 1989.

God 1991

Assigned such none pharmaceutical titles as god, Pretty Vacant and Anarchy (perversely, the early spots were dubbed Acetic Anhydride, Aprotinin, Calciferol et al), they are essentially everyone’s bathroom cabinet enlarged and every single one of us has from time to time done what he did — that is, lend order to disorderly arrangement.

A decade later he was still stocking vitrines, but with skulls, bones, brains and surgical instruments, and some developments were homages to the 17th-century Cabinet of Curiosities and to the medical models and specimens accumulated in the pan-European schools of surgery and medicine in the Enlightenment.

Even so the basic concept of the cupboard or vitrine remained unchanged.

Hirst’s famous medicine cabinets containing pharmaceutical packaging are amongst Hirst’s most interesting works for they make us aware of something we relentlessly take for granted: the role played by medicine in our daily lives, and the way we relate to the life-saving power of medicine.

Each mirroring a different part of the human body or a specific condition, the cabinets embody the essentially drastic shift of faith from God to science that we all embrace when death beacons at the horizon.

The theme of death and mortality is of course overriding in Hirt’s work and the exhibition itself perhaps brings some of the most famous works to the attention of the viewer a little too often

Sinner, medicine cabinet 1988

In the bottom left-hand corner of Sinner is a small medical model of a female torso with the belly skin and ribs removed.

It is not the same as the gigantic Hymn of 1999-2005 that once stood in the forecourt of the Royal Academy, subject to accusations of plagiarism, but, apart from the overwhelming scale, is very like and again demonstrates that once Hirst has hit on an idea he keeps it on the boil for years, even decades, until he has exploited its every possible variant and purpose.

Add to Hymn and Sinner the organs in specimen jars of 1991, the fish, the shark, the butterflies and the farm animals in tanks of formaldehyde, and it must seem to the enquirer that, with the exception of the Spots (though even for these he claimed a “scientific approach”), all his ideas were borrowed from things seen as a boy on frequent prowlings in the university’s anatomy museum before, at 19, he left Leeds for London.

Lap Dancer 2006.

Lullaby – the Seasons

At the other end of the room are the more recent pill cabinets, this time with the pills out of the boxes, in shiny stainless steel.

Dead ends dried Out and Examined 1993

Nature Series

A recurring theme in Hirst’s work is the passing of time and the transient nature of life.

The exploration of life and death through animal-dissection continues through the exhibition.

The vitrines – glass cases containing a life cycle of birth and death – are still quite effective when you are confronted with them.

Pieces of the same nature, like Mother and Child divided (1993), also known as the cow and calf cut in half, and Where Will it End (1993) a cabinet filled with 100 fishes in formaldehyde, where also exhibited.

Mother and Child Divided 2007

“Cut us all in half, we’re all the fucking same.”

Hirst’s ‘Mother and Child Divided’, a four-part sculpture of a bisected cow and calf and preserved in four tanks of formaldehyde, first exhibited as part of the ‘Aperto 93’ Venice Biennale exhibition.

It is a key early ‘Natural History’ work and subsequently formed the focal piece in the 1995 Turner Prize competition, won by Hirst.

The cows are removed from nature, both through their unorthodox presence within a gallery setting, and by death.

The artist explains, “In a way, you understand more about living people by dealing with dead people. It’s sad but you feel more … my cows cut up in formaldehyde have more personality than any cows walking about in fields.”

The cows, tragic in that they’re amongst “the most slaughtered animals ever”, are used to demonstrate, “an emotional thing which you are dealing with in a very brutal, unemotional way.”

The title of the work is simultaneously an acknowledgement of the bisection, and an expression of the violence inherent, “in any sort of relationship, like trying to keep a relationship together when it is falling apart.

The piece comprises of a bi-parted display of a cow and calf, both sawn in two symmetrical halves cut length-wise and placed in four glass cases.

In splitting each animal, the cases allow just enough space for a person to walk in between, so to visually pass through the animal.

Of course the encounter with severed cows in the gallery space is bound to provoke strong emotional responses, however it is the friction between the attraction and revulsion generated by the display that makes the work worthy of attention.

Here the temptation to walk between the two halves is undeniable, so much that gallery visitors spontaneously form an orderly queue at one end of the piece in order to experience the spectacle of the open animal carcass.

From that perspective, from the inside, the animal presents its complex network of organs, one that simultaneously seems here to function as a piece of abstract beauty whilst reminding us of the undeniable biological similarities we share with animals. In the formaldehyde vitrine, the animal itself becomes a kind of diorama, displaying an unfamiliar hidden world that has been brought into the museum and put on display for visitors to see.

This far-off environment is imported from the killing factory of the meat processing plant, and its geography needs not be recreated through models and diorama paintings, but through mere stripping away of the concealing layers of skin and bone that hide the landscape inside.

At once, like at the slaughterhouse tours of late 1800, the viewer is caught in an overpowering spectacle triggered by the anatomical overlapping between animal and human that meat so clearly suggests through its material presence.

However there is more to the work as Mother and Child Divided reminds of the closeness between us and animals whilst performatively alluding to the brutal separations of ‘mother and child’ that are at the core of the meat industry’s day-to-day operations.

This work indeed is a questioning entity. What is this urgency of seeing we experience in front of it? What do we expect to see? And what do we effectively happen to see instead?

Away from the Flock 1994

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of someone Living 1991

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine (clear display case) became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide.

The Shark in formaldehyde is one of the most talked about pieces of art of the twentieth century. A piece which carries controversy and admiration. Primal fear, life and death are again themes presented and exposed in such a way capturing the heart and mind of the viewer. The huge shark with his wide open vicious mouth represents the ultimate fear, a symbol, an icon, a predator which is dead preserved as if it is alive.

The piece provokes a profound and primal fear just like the artist intended.

Its title, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, sounds exactly like what it is – a line from a student essay.

Hirst’s intention was to create fear in the viewer: … ‘I thought, well, if I can get one in a big enough space, actually in liquid, big enough to frighten you, that you feel you’re in there with it, feel that it could eat you, it would work.’

The work generated great controversy, and amongst other things it was responsible for bringing the topic of animals in contemporary art to wider audiences.

Most notably the British tabloid The Sun, reported the famous story titled ‘£50,000 for fish without chips’ rendering comedic at once the work, its alleged artistic qualities, and the seemingly absurd value assigned to it by the art market.

Whether we like it or not, the artwork has already secured its place in the History of Art book, whilst simultaneously finding a space in the minds of the many who know it without having even seen it in the flesh, and who may come to this exhibition to see it for the first time.

It does so by invoking in the viewer primordial and overwhelming responses triggered by the presence of one of the most dreaded natural predators. In Hirst’s vision, it was essential that the shark be “big enough to eat you” in order to effectively achieve the desired effect.

When looked head on, the shark is meant to trigger pure ‘animal fear’ in the viewer, suggesting an instinctual connection with our pre-historic ancestors for whom nature was not a subjugated external entity in which to indulge, but an all encompassing system of life and death, where death could come at any time in the shape of a larger predator.

This overwhelming sense of fear that metaphorically removes us from the top of the food chain entirely functions on the dynamics of the sublime, particularly, the evoked sense of impotency experienced in front of a potentially deadly force of nature.

This is the overriding paradox that in Hirst is embodied by the glass-tank, the element that visually prevents the shark from ‘killing’ the viewer.

A Thousand Years 1990

The seminal fly vitrine, ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990) – in which the cycle of life is represented by a cow’s head, flies and insect-o-cutor – is considered by the artist to be amongst his most significant pieces.

As Damien Hirst recently recalled, the late Lucian Freud told him after seeing his 1990 work, A Thousand Years: “You started with the final act, my dear.”

Visitors are assaulted by the smell of dying flies and a rotting cow’s head in A Thousand Years (1990), where flies emerge from maggots, eat from the animal’s head and die on an Insectocutor.

In a large bi-parted glass case, maggots hatch from white minimalist box, they metamorphize into adult flies, and feed on a severed cow’s head. Hanging from the upper part of the glass cabinet, an insectocutor means the end for the majority of the insects housed in the piece.

A severed, skinned, cow’s head lies in an artful pool of congealing blood as flies feed on it, breed on it, lay eggs on it, are hatched on it, feed on it as maggots before turning into flies only to be killed by an Insectocutor. And so it goes. The ickyness of the objects involved, the faint smell of decay, make the vitrines a more visceral experience than the other dead animals involved in Hirst’s work, preserved as they are in chemicals and glass

Installed at the heart of Hirst’s Tate Modern retrospective, it remains a spellbinding sculpture — in a steel and glass vitrine, flies hatch from a square white box filled with maggots, escaping through circular holes into a second chamber, where a rotting cow’s head sits in a pool of blood beneath an “insect-o-cutor”. There, the flies feast — and die.

Freud was only partly right – Hirst may never have hit the same heights as A Thousand Years, but other works from the early Nineties reflect a similarly original take on life and death

In 1990, when it was first exhibited, the work stirred media frenzy in the UK, propelling Hirst to the traditionally art-repellent pages of the tabloids.

In the artist’s conception, flies symbolise people with the closed system of A Thousand Years mirroring our world in its mechanistic functioning exposed to the bone. Quite simply, we come to life, feed, become sexually mature, mate and eventually die from natural causes or by accident.

The work bewilders viewers. Regardless of the fact that it is one of Hirst’s most famous pieces, its physical, mastodontic presence, the swarming of flies inside it, and the intense smell of death it exudes, prove overwhelming.

Like the most inspired work of abstract expressionism, A Thousand Years can only truly be understood upon encounter in the gallery space—no image, whether printed or on film can render the uneasiness this work evokes

It is a powerful piece of art with familiar themes such as life and death and artist as the ultimate creator.

9) Doorways to the Kingdom of Heaven

More work with butterflies is visible in room eleven, where some of Hirst’s most eye-catchy “butterfly-wing paintings” are exhibited.

The series counts a number of differently sized and shaped canvases on which butterfly wings from a multitude of tropical species have been detached from the bodies of the insects and arranged to suggest the a stained glass window.

All of Hirst’s compositional arrangements present levels of entropic harmony structured around symmetrically repeated geometrical patterning. What at first appears to be chaotic and random, quickly reveals itself as perfectly ordered and speculatively self-referenced within itself.

These are images in which the symbolic tensions between life and death explored in the still life genre have been exasperated


Damien Hirst’s “Crematorium,” 1996

Cigarette butts are a recurrent motif of Hirst’s, who has compared smoking to “a mini life cycle.” This gigantic, stinking ashtray appears to contain a lifetime’s consumption, as if rubbing the viewer’s nose in this brutal reality. The title reinforces the impression; the cigarette ashes stand for crematorium’s leftovers — an existence gone up in smoke

It is not only animals that grab attention in this busy show. Cigarettes become a clear haunting presence.

Ashtrays scattered in different sizes across two rooms: small ashtrays and a massive ashtray filled with hundred of cigarette butts and empty packs. It smells of “smoked away life”

Hirst, who was a heavy smoker until recently, saw cigarettes as segments of life and cigarette butts as the remains or memories of such segments.

In burning for the three to five minutes they usually take, each smoked cigarette captures a unique and unrepeatable moment in a person’s life; a conversation, the page of a book, the writing of a letter, a phone call… They represent the passing of time and with that the passing of life. They offer an unlikely opportunity to celebrate the everyday irrelevance of random and seemingly meaningless moments.

In and Out of Love 1991

On the occasion of the retrospective, Hirst has refabricated his two-part installation ‘In and Out of Love’ (1991), for the first time since its exhibition in a disused travel agent’s office over twenty years ago. The show was originally installed on two floors of a vacant shop and it is at Tate reconfigured on one level.

It was Hirst’s first solo exhibition in London and followed his experimentation with insects, interest shifting here from flies to tropical butterflies.

Described by the artist as a “comparison between art and life”, the initial exhibition of ‘In and Out of Love’ is one of Hirst’s most important early shows

As part of the “show stealing” installation, viewers pass through a room of live butterflies – hatching, feeding on sugar water and fruit, mating, laying eggs and eventually dying – before entering an adjoining room filled with Hirst’s painted dead butterflies on monochrome canvases.

Viewers queue for up to thirty minutes in order to enter this room.

As you move on to the rooms that follow a queue is formed. The anticipation grows and the viewer enters a room full of butterflies flying around in a specially maintained humid environment.

Some of the butterflies are drunk fed on sugar, water and flowers. The majestic colours of their wings epitomize their beauty, their environment seems pure and untouched. The butterflies are moving freely almost undisturbed by the human presence.

In the first room canvases present dead butterflies embedded into monochromatic fields of viscous household gloss-paint, fulfilling a static aesthetic role.

This forms the base for his iconic “butterfly paintings” which would be later produced in series.

The second room contains flowers, bowls of sugar-water and white canvases with pupae attached to them from which exotic butterflies hatch, mate, lay eggs and die in a cyclical rehearsal of biological functions.

In a warm and humid white room, butterfly pupae are attached to large white canvasses hanging on the walls. Over time the pupae hatch into large, exotic butterflies that feed on bowls of fruit and the potted plants lining the space. The butterflies live and grow and mate and lay eggs and are born and die, and we enter, as if invited into a vitrine, to witness and experience it all, to see our own fates played out by these heart breakingly beautiful creatures that flutter about, sometimes landing on you, often ignoring you completely.

The environment forces you to slow down, to contemplate, to really experience the life cycle and the result is a genuinely affecting slow-burn meditation on death, much more effective than anything else Hirst has to offer.

In and Out of Love brings living creatures in physical contact with the traditional representational plane onto which they were once only depicted: the canvas.

From this angle the work mainly appears to comment on the postmodernist dislike for representation in art, reassessing, in a rather dramatic way, its privileging for the real.

Unlike in A Thousand Years, the killing does not happen in the gallery space, but it is implied by the simultaneous presence of live fluttering butterflies and those stuck to the canvasses.

The encounter with these butterflies, one of the most culturally celebrated insects, is different from the traditional pinned encounter provided by the entomology cabinet.

These circumstances remind us that this killing is institutionalised, but that it is so in an opposite way to that of flies.

The killing of butterflies aims at preserving the body in its perfect beauty, whilst the killing of flies aims at disintegrating the body as source of disgust.

Gold Room

As the ultimate culmination of the show, the last room is a form of tribute to the Sotheby’s auction in 2008 when Hirst bypassed the traditional way of selling work through the galleries and Hirst went directly to the art market ( via Sothebys ) thus avoiding the gallery system.

It proved to be a triumphant exercise for Hirst – as the auction sold 244 new works over 2 days ( all substantially consisting of revised versions of his previous iconic productions ), and raised £111m on 15 and 16 September 2008, the day before Lehmann Brothers bank collapsed

This created a major controversy in the Art World and the Tate room is essentially a piece of art work itself as it represents this dramatic move by the artist which revolutionised the way art business can be done.

Tate Modern presented in a room decorated with golden wallpaper derived from covers of the sale catalogue, some of the work presented at Sotheby’s ( the same, limited edition golden wallpaper is available in the gift shop at £250 a roll, alongside other wallpapers decorated with butterflies or pills, priced at £750).

The use of gold and precious stones predominates, the artificially manufactured diamonds displayed in cabinets in exactly the same way as pills are in his pharmacies, and both act as panaceas to death.

In the centre of the room is another, smaller, shark in formaldehyde, entitled The Kingdom, just in case you don’t get the message that bling is useless in the face of death.

This room is the apotheosis of Hirst’s personal artistic mythology. Everything is gold and platinum plated; the walls are covered in wallpaper reproducing the catalogue image of Judgment Day, a gold cabinet filled with 30.000 manufactured diamonds. There is gold and precious stones everywhere you look—maybe a little too much of it?

Hirst conceived this auction as a unified body of work, entitled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever.

Laughably, Hirst described the sale as ‘a very democratic way to sell art’, presumably because he bypassed galleries with their sizeable commission fees.

This seems to indicate that Hirst believes, like all good capitalists, that democracy consists purely of the ability and freedom to make more money. It’s also been claimed that the auction itself was an artistic performance, commenting on the art market, though accusations have flown about that prices for certain works were ‘propped up’ or even inflated by Hirst’s business colleagues bidding for them.

Was this part of the ‘performance’? If so, Hirst made sure his ‘fee’ was premium.

Right past this bath of gold is a diminuitive white room in which a dove hovers suspended in a formaldehyde cabinet.

Behind it is Remembrance, a white-on-white spot painting from 2009. Following the gold extravaganza of the previous room, this last closing chapter proposes an ambiguous ending to a dramatic show.

Is the dove symbolizing the holy ghost, hope, peace?

Each plausible meaning seem a little hollow and washed out, as the gold overdose of the previous room overwhelmed creative thought.

For the Love of God 2007

The exhibition ends in Tate Modern’s turbine hall.

A specially built space has been created in which to display Hirst’s most famous work since the shark: For the Love of God (2007), a platinum cast of a skull covered with diamonds.

With the £50.000.000 8601 flawless diamond-covered platinum skull – “For the love of God (2007)  located downstairs in the Turbine Hall , the artist epitomizes in a glorious and yet cynical way death and luxury.

The enmeshing of values, from that of human life to monetary, natural and craft, the skull belongs to that category of objects one can barely get to grips in terms of value. How else would you visualize £50.000.000?

At the same time the amazement the diamonds create to the viewer cannot be ignored.

Hirst said it: ”it is the most alive thing I have ever made”.

It is the first time the sculpture (which apparently cost £14 million) has been available to view in the UK since its original exhibition at White Cube in 2007

’ The space is a pitch black box room with the skull placed in the centre and presented as a holy relic.

It’s undeniably beautiful, smaller than I expected, and an exquisitely wrought piece of craftsmanship.

The lights directed onto it make it crackle and sparkle but it produces neither awe nor wonder, and acts in only a limited way as a reminder of death.

Mainly it seems to be the culmination of many of Hirst’s themes but it’s as if he decided what he thought and felt about all these when he was about 14 and nothing has really changed except his spending power to render the works bigger, slicker, and with more vulgarity.

I made the skull [For the Love of God, encrusted with 8,601 diamonds and reported to have sold for £50m because in a situation where there was all this money being made, I wanted to make something about the money. When you’re in a position where you have made loads and loads of money, it should be used to make art rather than letting it pile up.

You get the Mona Lisa and then you get the postcards and the T-shirts and the mousepads and the mugs. One thing is the art work, the other is getting it out there, and I’ve always been torn between the two. The price tag on the art is a bit more than in the gift shop.

Tate Modern Damien Hirst Merchandise

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 US$200 million, a record for a living artist. The sale began on September 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

Damien Hirst merchandise, from a deckchair to a plastic skull, is on sale for eye-watering price tags of up to £36,800 at the first UK retrospective of the controversial British artist.

In the shop, rolls of wallpaper Hirst created specifically for the show are on sale at £250 each, along with £310 butterfly deckchairs and sets of 12 bone china butterfly plates for £10,500. Those who really want to say “stuff the recession” can pay £36,800 for a limited-edition plastic skull (painted in “household gloss”).

The items can be snapped up at Tate Modern’s highly-anticipated show, which opens just days after a critic and former curator urged owners of Hirst’s work to sell quickly before “the penny drops”.

The show, entitled Damien Hirst, features some new work in the form of diamond and butterfly-decorated wallpaper, and highlights from the 46-year-old’s phenomenally successful career.

Would you pay £36,800 for this?

The gift shop is geared up for them with Damien Hirst skateboards among the many unusual items for sale. There are butterfly umbrellas for £195 and signed, colour spin print bass guitars for a staggering £10,000 a time.


Exit through the gift shop: Damien Hirst skateboards on sale at the Tate shop

At the end of the exhibition, which opens on Wednesday, visitors can spend £700 on a limited edition roll of butterfly wallpaper, or part with £36,800 for a plastic skull decorated with “household gloss” in the style of one of Hirst’s spin paintings.

Other objects on sale include a butterfly-print deckchair for £310, and a spot painting-style skateboard “stamped with signature” for £480.

Hirst defended the merchandise at his retrospective, saying: “You get the Mona Lisa and then you get the postcards, the T-shirts, the mouse-pad, the earrings and the mugs.

“One thing is the artwork and the other is getting it out there and I’ve always been torn between the two.”

He said: “A painting probably has the most shocking increase in value than what it cost to make but you’d never look at a Rembrandt and say that’s just wood and canvas and paint and say ‘how much?'”

Asked whether the plastic skull selling for £36,800 would hold its value, he replied: “Maybe on eBay you might be all right for a bit.”

About Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst is an iconic and acknowledged artist, entrepreneur and art collector.

Damien Steven Hirst, born June 7, 1965, in Bristol

He grew up in Leeds with his mother and step-father.

His father was reportedly a motor mechanic, who left the family when Hirst was 12.

His mother, Mary Brennan, of Irish Catholic descent, worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau, and has stated that she lost control of her son when he was young. He was arrested on two occasions for shoplifting.

However, Hirst sees her as someone who would not tolerate rebellion: she cut up his bondage trousers and heated one of his Sex Pistols vinyl records on the cooker to turn it into a fruit bowl (or a plant pot). He says, “If she didn’t like how I was dressed, she would quickly take me away from the bus stop.”

She did, though, encourage his liking for drawing, which was his only successful educational subject.

His art teacher “pleaded”for Hirst to be allowed to enter the sixth form,where he took two A-levels, achieving an “E” grade in art.

He was refused admission to Leeds College of Art and Design, when he first applied, but attended the college after a subsequent successful application.

At 18 he took the year-long Foundation Course at what was then known as The Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds.

He went to an exhibition of work by Francis Davison, staged by Julian Spalding at the Hayward Gallery in 1983. Davison created abstract collages from torn and cut coloured paper, which Hirst said, “blew me away”, and which he modelled his own work on for the next two years.

After a two-year gap labouring on London building sites he started the Fine Arts BA course at Goldsmiths College ( University of London ) in 1986 -1989 –  although again he was refused a place the first time he applied as well as being refused entry to St Martins in London..

There compulsory drawing and every other discipline that might lead to his becoming a professional artist in the traditional sense had been abandoned; instead, wild theory, wilder ideas, and art history of the most erratic, shallow and misleading kind had absolute supremacy over all the ancestral skills of art in its ancestral forms.

“While a student, Hirst had a placement at a mortuary, an experience that influenced his later themes and materials

He also began to develop a reputation as a tireless activist in promoting his art.

Hirst was first noticed in 1988 when he organized “Freeze” (the now famous three-part exhibition) an independent student exhibition in a disused Docklands warehouse which showed his work and that of his friends and fellow students at Goldsmiths College. This proved to be the crucible in which the group known as the YBAs (Young British Artists) were formed.

The exhibition, which ran from 6th August to 29th September in three rolling parts is commonly acknowledged to have been the launching point for a generation of British artists.

In order to facilitate ‘Freeze’, Hirst gained sponsorship from the London Docklands Development Corporation and the property development firm Olympia & York for the exhibition, securing the loan of the empty Port of London Authority Building in Surrey Docks, South-East London. Hirst, who was working part-time at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, prepared the disused warehouse for the show, installing lighting and painting the walls with the help of fellow student and exhibitor Angus Fairhurst.

The actual list of members in the YBA group remained fluid from project to project.

The 16 students who did exhibit at Freeze were: Steven Adamson / Angela Bulloch / Mat Collishaw / Ian Davenport / Angus Fairhurst / Anya Gallaccio / Damien Hirst / Gary Hume / Michael Landy / Abigail Lane / Sarah Lucas / Lala Meredith-Vula / Richard Patterson / Simon Patterson / Stephen Park / Fiona Rae

‘Freeze’ opening party, August 1988. The compounded myth of the show influenced a new generation of curators. Left to right: Ian Davenport, Damien Hirst, Angela Bulloch, Fiona Rae, Stephen Park, Anya Gallaccio, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume

(Image: ‘Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection’, Norman Rosenthal et al, Thames & Hudson, 1998)

‘Freeze’, Installation shot, works by Simon Patterson (left), Abigail Lane (centre) and Lala Meredith-Vulja, August 1988, PLA Building, Surrey Docks, London

Many of the 16 artists featured were Hirst’s contemporaries at Goldsmiths. Their work was bound by their collective variety of approach, intention and result. In the first phase of the rolling exhibition, Hirst installed the cardboard and household-gloss piece ‘Boxes’ (1988). For the final phase, he exhibited the spot paintingsEdge’ and ‘Row’ (1988), which were painted directly onto the warehouse wall. Other notable inclusions were Mat Collishaw’s ‘Bullet Hole’ (1988), a backlit transparency of a gunshot wound to the head, and Anya Gallaccio’s ‘Waterloo’ (1988), a lead and bronze floor installation. Also shown were an oil on canvas painting by Dominic Denis, ‘Painting’ (1988), and Michael Landy’s tarpaulin work ‘Sovereign’ (1988).

Hirst describes the conception and curation of the exhibition in analogous terms to the development of his work at the time. He explains: “I found I could work with already organised elements. And I suppose in ‘Freeze’ the artists were kind of already organised elements in themselves and I arranged them.”

Hirst and his collaborators consciously imitated the look of Charles Saatchi’s first gallery in St John’s Wood that had opened a few years earlier. Saatchi, an art collector, attended Freeze and purchased a piece of art by Mat Collishaw.

Michael Craig-Martin, a tutor at Goldsmiths Art College, used his influence in the London art world to convince Norman Rosenthal and Nicholas Serota to visit the exhibition.

In 2007, Michael Craig-Martin said in an interview : “I had always tried to help my students in any way I could, particularly in those first years after art school. I knew from personal experience how difficult it was—I never had things come easy. I did the same with Damien and Freeze. I encouraged people to go and see the work. I would never have done this if I hadn’t believed the show was of exceptional interest—why waste people’s time? It amuses me that so many people think what happened was calculated and cleverly manipulated whereas in fact it was a combination of youthful bravado, innocence, fortunate timing, good luck, and, of course, good work”

Through Hirst’s garnering of publicity for the exhibition, and with the support of his Goldsmiths tutor Michael Craig-Martin, ‘Freeze’ was attended by such notable curators, journalists and collectors as Richard Shone, Nicholas Serota, Charles Saatchi and Norman Rosenthal. Hirst personally ensured Rosenthal’s attendance by insisting on driving him to the exhibition and back to the Royal Academy. Of the exhibition, Craig-Martin has stated: “It amuses me that so many people think what happened was calculated and cleverly manipulated whereas in fact it was a combination of youthful bravado, innocence, fortunate timing, good luck, and, of course, good work. It caught people’s imagination.

In 1991 the Institute of Contemporary Arts gave him, at 26, his first solo exhibition in a publicly funded art gallery; the following year he was nominated for the Turner Prize; and in 1995, at 30.

He became as big a part of the era’s Britpop scene as his friends Blur and their rivals Oasis.

He, along with Blur bass player Alex James and actor Keith Allen, formed the band Fat Les and had a hit record with the football anthem Vindaloo.

It was at Goldsmiths that he met Charles Saatchi, who would propel him from chancer to millionaire before they parted company in 2003 after a disagreement over the way Hirst’s works were staged at Saatchi’s gallery.

Around that time, Hirst admitted: ‘I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it.’ Which raises the question: is he consciously playing us for fools?

He had by then been the subject, in whole or part, of some forty exhibitions (many more if we count all the venues to which some of them travelled) in Britain, Germany (the consequence of a year’s fellowship residency in Berlin), Italy, America and elsewhere.

He had also had the support of the Arts Council, the Tate, Hayward, Serpentine and Whitechapel Galleries as well as the ICA, of several leading London dealers in contemporary art, and, most important of all because of the publicity attached to the relationship, of Charles Saatchi at his most flamboyant.

His first major breakthrough came in 1990 when he (together with Carl Freedman and Billee Sellman) curated two ‘warehouse’ shows, called ‘Modern Medicine’ and ‘Gambler’. Charles Saatchi arrived at the second show in his Rolls Royce and – according to one artist – stood open-mouthed with astonishment in front of Hirst’s installation A Thousand Years.

Saatchi immediately bought the piece thus initiating a long and fruitful business relationship between patron and artist.

Saatchi not only owned the notorious shark in formaldehyde, dubbed The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, of 1991, but was rumoured to have had a hand in its conception and the organisation and costs involved in its making.

To supply the work for so many exhibitions, patrons and collectors, Hirst must have had substantial financial support from the very beginning, even while still a student — how else could he have afforded the technical assistance required to construct the 76 leak-proof cases of formaldehyde for the fish of his Isolated Elements swimming in the same Direction for the Purposes of Understanding, of 1991, let alone the tank big enough to hold the shark?

For the rest of the 1990s Hirst’s works continued to grow in popularity. The theme of life and death continued to permeate his output.

Like the artist Andy Warhol (and not unlike commercially successful Old Masters like Michelangelo, Giovanni Bellini and Titian, and Baroque painters like Peter Paul Rubens), he expanded his studio to take on assistants to help produce his works, especially his fine art paintings. This led to controversy over the authenticity of some of his works. In fact, he himself admitted to only having painted five of his ‘Spot’ paintings because “I couldn’t be f— arsed doing it.”

He described his own efforts as ‘shite’ and that one of his assistants Rachel was far better at it.

He claimed that “the best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel…the only difference between one painted by her and one of mine, is the money.”

Hirst had realized long before graduating that if the existing art world was not ready to welcome him, he would have to create his own.

In 1991, he staged a two-room exhibition in a vacant shop on Bond Street — a stone’s throw from Anthony d’Offay Gallery, where the artist had worked.

The first room, “In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies),” was hot and humid and had live pupae stuck to white canvases. Butterflies would hatch and die, enacting a whole life cycle over a few days.

The second room, “In and Out of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays),” showed the inescapable end: the dead insects glued to colorful monochromes presented with ashtrays full to the brim with cigarette butts. It’s the first time the two rooms have been presented together since 1991. “That’s when the building became the vitrine,” Hirst has commented. “I wanted a three-dimensional De Kooning painting that flew around the room and thought that was what I was going to get. But it’s not really — it’s something else.”

Damien Hirst, “Do It,” 1995

“I hate death,” says Hirst in the video’s opening shot. “I think it’s rude. I love life. However, I think suicide is the perfect way to deal with life. The problem with life is not knowing when you die, so with suicide, you choose the point when you die, you can say: ‘this is where I decide it ends.'” In 1995, Hans Ulrich Obrist curated “Do It” for which he invited artists to send instructions to make artworks. Hirst submitted a video explaining how to make sure you’ll die if you shoot yourself in the head.

Hirst continues to be a best-seller and, despite a bust-up with his erstwhile patron Charles Saatchi, the latter remains a staunch supporter of Hirst’s artistic talent, commenting: “general art books dated 2105 will be as brutal about editing the late 20th century as they are about almost all other centuries. Every artist other than Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Damien Hirst will be a footnote

In the nearly quarter of a century since the pivotal “Freeze” show, Hirst has become one of the most influential artists of his generation.

In Sept 2008, he took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby’s by auction and by-passing his long-standing galleries.

The auction exceeded all predictions, raising $198 million for 218 items, breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst’s own record with $16 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat solid gold horns, hooves and a disc above its head-  preserved in formaldehyde.

The centrepiece for the upcoming auction will be The Golden Calf, a new sculpture of a bull in formaldehyde whose head is crowned by a solid gold disk and whose hooves and horns are cast in 18-carat solid gold.

All but five of the lots sold for a total of £111,464,800 ($200,752,179), edging above the presale high estimate of £98.6 million.

“The market is bigger than anyone knows,” said Hirst himself after the sale (via press release). “I love art and this proves I’m not alone and the future looks great for everyone!”

The artist reportedly followed the evening sale electronically while playing snooker.

But Hirst is particularly famous for his small human skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds, For the Love of God, weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats. Sold for around $100 million to a consortium including Hirst himself and his gallery White Cube, it became the single most expensive piece of contemporary art ever created.

In several instances since 1999, sources for certain of Hirst’s works have been challenged and contested as plagiarized, both in written articles by journalists and artists, and, in one instance, through legal proceedings which led to an out-of-court settlement.

He now lives and works in London and Devon.

Hirst’s exploration of imagery is notable for its strong associations to life and death, and to belief and value systems.

Damien Hirst has participated in numerous group exhibitions including the Venice Biennale in 1993 and 2003; Twentieth Century British Sculpture, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1996; Extreme Abstraction, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2005; Into Me / Out of Me, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2006; Re-Object, Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2007 and Color Chart: Reinventing Color 1950 to Today, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008.

Solo exhibitions include Internal Affairs, ICA, London, 1991; Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo, 1997; The Agony and the Ecstasy, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 2004; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2005; For the Love of God, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2008 and Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, 2010/1.

He received the DAAD fellowship in Berlin in 1994 and won the Turner Prize in 1995.

Hirst’s work can be found in several important collections worldwide, including Tate, London, UK; British Council, UK; MoMA, New York, USA; Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, USA; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK; Broad Art Foundation; Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Netherlands; Neue Galerie Graz, Austria and State Museum of Berlin, German

In the video above …. Damien Hirst chronicles the evolution of his career, from growing up in Leeds to working on a building site, attending Goldsmiths College, taking up conceptual art and helping start the Young British Artists movement. This documentary was originally shown on Channel 4

Science Production Studio

Hirst has created an enormous new factory to produce his next ‘masterpieces’ – complete with its own formaldehyde studio to convert slaughtered animals into lucrative artworks. The development is known as the ‘Science Production Studio’, after Hirst’s company Science Ltd, registered in Jersey, through which he sells his artwork.

Hirst has spent millions of pounds converting the former injection-moulding factory, having gained planning permission six years ago.

The main building is composed of three warehouse-style spaces. The tallest of these is a gallery for showing off the finished products. Adjacent to that is a fire-protected storage facility. The third warehouse is the production unit where the paintings and sculptures will be created.

Potential buyers will initially be welcomed into a ‘glazed gallery’ within the main gallery, which has 65ft-high windows looking out on to a ‘sculpture space’ where Hirst’s work will be displayed among trees next to a stream at the back of the building.

Important guests can be entertained in a private dining room with a walkway that provides views down into the main gallery.

Plans for the storage room reveal 14 racks for hanging artworks.

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