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.
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, and 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.
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. In the final iteration of Freeze, Hirst included two of his Spot paintings, which he painted directly onto the wall. The Spot paintings (1986–), of which there are now more than one thousand, present multicolored spots on white or near-white grounds and are painted by hand in glossy house paint. With these works, Hirst sought to paint as a machine yet allow for the subtle imperfections of the artist’s hand. In 2012 Gagosian showed more than three hundred Spot paintings at once across all eleven of the gallery’s locations.
Like many of Hirst’s series, the Spot paintings evoke various psychological and perceptual dichotomies: they are both calming and unnerving, beautiful and ordinary. A subseries, the Pharmaceutical paintings (1986–2011), features evenly spaced, multicolored circles. The title links these works to the medicine cabinets (1988–2012) and Visual Candy paintings (1993–95), all of which consider the cultural role of prescription drugs, the ways they are advertised, and the many promises that are made to their consumers. The medicine cabinets are filled with the empty packaging of various medications, highlighting the minimalist aesthetic of the boxes and plastic containers. The Visual Candy paintings push the idea of false promises even further. Alluding to movements including Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop art, they are exuberant, colorful paintings with euphoric, perhaps facetious, titles such as Happy Happy Happy (1994), Wowee Zowee (1993), and Super Silly Fun (1993).
In 1991 Hirst created 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. That same year, in London, Hirst presented In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies), an exhibition featuring real pupas glued to white canvases. The pupas hatched in the gallery, releasing live butterflies into the space. In 1997 Hirst collaborated on Pharmacy Restaurant and Bar in London, for which he designed the interior, transforming his work into an immersive environment.
Since the early 2000s Hirst has produced ambitious, captivating works ranging from the kaleidoscopic butterfly paintings (2001–08)—made by placing thousands of butterfly wings in intricate geometric patterns onto painted canvases—to For the Love of God (2007), a platinum cast of a human skull set with 8,601 diamonds. Hirst’s first major retrospective, The Agony and the Ecstasy, was presented by the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, Italy, in 2004, and he was recognized in 2012 with a major retrospective at Tate Modern in London. While his 2017 exhibition Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable filled the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice with monumental, fantastical sculptures made of precious metals and stones, covered in illusionistic barnacles, Hirst subsequently returned to the gestural immediacy of painting with the Veil paintings (2017–18), in which he continued his examination of color and its effects on the eye.
In 2015 Hirst opened the Newport Street Gallery in London, a realization of his long-term ambition to share his art collection with the public.
Emergency Paintings, Danger Paintings, Hazard Pictures and Seizures
Open from October 5, 2021
Britannia Street, London
Extended through August 10, 2018
Colour Space Paintings
May 4–August 10, 2018
555 West 24th Street, New York
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2021
The Fall 2021 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Damien Hirst’s Reclining Woman (2011) on its cover.
For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
Sydney Stutterheim meditates on the power and possibilities of small-format artworks throughout time.
In the Studio: Damien Hirst’s Veil Paintings
Damien Hirst speaks about his Veil paintings with Gagosian’s Alison McDonald. “I wanted to make paintings that were a celebration,” he says, “and that revealed something and obscured something at the same time.”
Damien Hirst: Visual Candy
James Fox considers the origins of Damien Hirst’s Visual Candy paintings on the occasion of a recent exhibition of these early works in Hong Kong.
Damien Hirst: Colour Space Paintings
Blake Gopnik examines the artist’s “dot” paintings in relation to the history of representation in Western art, in which dabs of paint have served as fundamental units of depiction and markers of objective truth.
The River Café Cookbook
London’s River Café, a culinary mecca perched on a bend in the River Thames, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2018. To celebrate this milestone and the publication of her cookbook River Café London, cofounder Ruth Rogers sat down with Derek Blasberg to discuss the famed restaurant’s allure.
Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt
Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.
Frieze Masters 2021
October 13–17, 2021, booth C02
Regent’s Park, London
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Frieze Masters 2021 with Material Process. Conceived, carved, cast, or constructed—sculpture remained a continuously strong tradition throughout the twentieth century in Britain. Artists such as Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, Michael Craig-Martin, Rachel Whiteread, Damien Hirst, and Douglas Gordon have extended this lineage, often focusing on human figures or body parts, transforming materials and techniques, including language, into a widely diverse practice that is internationally recognized.
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Plaster Torso), 1993 © Rachel Whiteread. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates
On July 14, 2021, Damien Hirst released The Currency—a collection of ten thousand NFTs that correspond to ten thousand unique physical artworks—with HENI on Palm, a new, more environmentally friendly NFT ecosystem. Collectors are invited to apply to buy an NFT through July 21, 2021. Successful applicants will all initially receive NFTs. Ultimately, each collector has one year to decide between keeping the NFT or trading it for the physical artwork; whichever is not selected will be destroyed. The Currency is an experiment in belief in which every participant is confronted with their perception of value, testing the boundaries of the digital and physical worlds and our role in both.
Damien Hirst with works from The Currency (2016). Artwork © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd, DACS 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd
Damien Hirst: Relics and Fly Paintings
Thursday, July 15, 2021, 6–8pm
Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
The Britannia Street gallery will be open after hours to visit Damien Hirst: Relics and Fly Paintings, the second phase of the artist’s yearlong takeover of the space. For this new iteration, the artist has clad the interior of the gallery in black butterfly-patterned wallpaper that reproduces the kaleidoscopic surface of his painting Valley of Death (2010). With its uniquely immersive atmosphere, the exhibition brings together a number of Hirst’s bodies of work, prompting reflections on themes of darkness and death, the past and the future.
Installation view, Damien Hirst: Relics and Fly Paintings, Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, open from June 5, 2021. Artwork © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates
Through November 7, 2021
Galleria Borghese, Rome
In Archaeology Now, more than eighty works from Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable (2007–17) series are displayed throughout the Galleria Borghese alongside ancient masterpieces from the museum’s collection. Hirst’s C0lour Space (2016) paintings are also exhibited—for the first time in Italy—among the collection and his colossal sculpture Hydra and Kali (2015) is presented outdoors in the Giardino Segreto dell’Uccelliera.
Installation view, Damien Hirst: Archaeology Now, Galleria Borghese, Rome, June 8–November 7, 2021. Artwork © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved DACS 2021/SIAE 2021. Photo: A. Novelli © Galleria Borghese-Ministero della Cultura
Through January 2, 2022
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris
Cherry Blossoms, Damien Hirst’s first museum exhibition in France, reinterprets the traditional subject of landscape painting with playful irony. In this series Hirst combines thick brushstrokes and elements of gestural painting, referencing Impressionism, Pointillism, and Action painting. The monumental canvases, which are entirely covered in dense bright colors, envelop the viewer in a vast floral landscape moving between figuration and abstraction.
Damien Hirst, Renewal Blossom, 2018 © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates
End of a Century
October 7, 2020–August 8, 2021
Newport Street Gallery, London
End of a Century features over fifty early works by Damien Hirst, spanning his formative years as a student in the 1980s through the 1990s, when he became one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists. Featuring installations, sculpture, and paintings, some of which have not been seen before, the exhibition surveys a selection of Hirst’s most iconic series.
Damien Hirst, Up, Up and Away, 1997 © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2020
00s. Collection Cranford
Les années 2000
October 24, 2020–May 30, 2021
Mo.Co. Contemporary, Montpellier, France
This exhibition of work from the Cranford Collection, established by Muriel and Freddy Salem in 1999, aims to define the identity of the 2000s by creating a dialogue between one hundred artworks by a multigenerational array of artists who contributed to shaping the beginning of the millennium. Work by Glenn Brown, Damien Hirst, Mike Kelley, Albert Oehlen, Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Franz West, and Christopher Wool is included.
Glenn Brown, Lemon Sunshine, 2001 © Glenn Brown