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Art Index: Damien Hirst

“People are afraid of change, so you create a kind of belief for them through repetition. It’s like breathing. I’ve always been drawn to series and pairs. A unique thing is quite a frightening object.” — Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

Portrait of Damien Hirst by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd

Artist Biography

Damien Steven Hirst, (born June 7, 1965, Bristol, England), is a British assemblagist, painter, and conceptual artist whose deliberately provocative art addresses vanitas and beauty, death and rebirth, medicine, technology, and mortality.

In 1988, while studying at Goldsmiths College in London, Hirst curated Freeze, a rolling exhibition in three parts, featuring his work and that of fellow students. This show is considered the debut of the artists who would come to be known as the Young British Artists, or YBAs, whose approach was characterized by a combination of entrepreneurial and oppositional attitudes, the use of found materials, and an interest in shock and spectacle.

Since emerging onto the international art scene in the late 1980s, Damien Hirst has created installations, sculptures, paintings, and drawings that examine the complex relationships between art and beauty, religion and science, life and death. From serialized paintings of multicolored spots to animal specimens preserved in tanks of formaldehyde, his work challenges contemporary belief systems, tracing the uncertainties that lie at the heart of human experience.

Death is a central theme in Hirst's works. He became famous for a series of artworks in which dead animals are preserved, sometimes having been dissected, in formaldehyde. The best-known of these was The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living:a fourteen-foot tiger shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde. This work, part of the Natural History series (1991–2013), has become a landmark of contemporary art and exemplifies Hirst’s interest in bridging the gap between art and science. The Natural History series includes additional taxidermied animals, including sheep, cows, a zebra, a dove, and even a “unicorn”—some of which are bisected or flayed.

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991. Glass, painted steel, silicone, monofilament, shark and formaldehyde solution Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates.© Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DAC

Some critics argue that the minimalistic qualities of the work, coinciding with the 'stereotypical' death theme, are too bland for such a prestigious artist. One critic wrote, "But the famous shark, shackled to its coffeebar-existentialist title – The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living – seems ever more dilapidated, more fairground sideshow, with every dowdy showing. What clichéd menace it may once have theoretically possessed has evaporated".Another art critic, Luke White, disagrees, saying that others had earlier perceived sharks " ugly and dangerous, but by the end of the century, they found them instead exhilarating, fascinating, and sublime". White argues that sharks have been seen as transcendent, awe-inspiring creatures throughout centuries, a creature that is the embodiment of sublimitude as well as a metaphorical representation of our mind helps, relaying the importance of how special our thoughts really are.

His displays of animals in formaldehyde and his installations complete with live maggots and butterflies were seen as reflections on mortality and the human unwillingness to confront it. Most of his works were given elaborate titles that underscored his general preoccupation with mortality.

In several instances since 1999, Hirst's works have been challenged and contested as plagiarized. In one instance, after his sculpture Hymnwas found to be closely based on a child's toy, legal proceedings led to an out-of-court settlement.

Damien Hirst work, Hymn (1999–2005) goes on display in Leeds city centre for the Yorkshire Sculpture International festival.. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Hirst’s art was shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including major retrospectives at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (2004) and Tate Modern (2012) in London. He also wrote books, designed restaurants, collaborated on pop music projects, and experimented with film.

During the 2017 Venice Biennale, he concurrently held his own solo exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, in two venues. The monumental installation featured sculptures and other objects presented as the remains from a fictional 2,000-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Africa.

Damien Hirst’s fake documentary about his Venice Show

Auction Results

According to, $100 invested in a work by Damien Hirst in 2000 would be worth an average of $30 (-70%) in May 2021, also confirmed by a price evolution in 2020 of -17.7% with 405 lots sold ($ 19,904,130) mostly in the UK (56.4%).

There are not currently Hirst’s artworks on public auction, but I found some interesting artworks for sale in Europe:

Purity - The dream is dead, 2007, Sterling silver sculpture, edition of 25, 59.94 x 12.95 x 28.45 cm Madrid Art Collection, Madrid, Spain. Image copyright © adagp

Vinyl record "The Spin Skull - See The Light" - The Hours, 2008, Sculpture-Volume, 53.5 x 73 cm Galerie Kellermann, Düsseldorf, Germany Image copyright © adagp



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