Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst is one of the artists who holds a special position within the Astrup Fearnley Collection. Born in Bristol, he studied at Goldsmith’s College, London. After having forged his place on the British art scene as a remarkable emerging artist in the late 1980s, a key protagonist of the Young British Artist phenomenon, he gained his first international acclaim at the 1993 Venice Biennale. When he won the 1995 Turner Prize, his talent was further recognized, and his stamp firmly embossed on the global contemporary art map. He has now achieved superstar status in the contemporary art world. Hirst engages simultaneously with sculpture, installation, and painting. The former two typically involve the manipulation of readymade materials, such as appropriated objects or animals, presented in altered states. Much of his renown, for example, derives from his works presenting bisected sheep or cows in formaldehyde-filled vitrines, as well as his famous shark. More recently, he has developed his early medicine cabinets, which, like the spliced animals, are characterized by their cold, clinical look. The paintings, although more decorative, are also based on a mechanical approach: the “Spin Paintings” involve the application of paint onto rotating circular canvases, while the “Spot Paintings” are the product of systematically applied monochrome dots in regular grids, and the “Butterfly Paintings” present the meticulously arranged insects on painted surfaces, often in highly structured and elaborate patterns. Beyond formalistic concerns, Hirst’s art deals with deeply symbolic and metaphysical questions. Long fascinated by death, he seduces spectators with his often-grotesque reflections on mortality: the cadaver of a cow; butterflies objectified onto canvases; medicine in sterile cabinets; flies amassed on pictorial surfaces. In all of these works, the spectator is confronted with the “decisive moment” of no return. But this preoccupation is typically counter-balanced by a rigorous yearning for total equilibrium. In Hirst’s work, therefore, one identifies fatal situations eerily fixed and suspended in time, as if the artist were trying to reverse nature’s inexorable cycle. If Hirst’s art does not achieve such a redemption of death, it has certainly been significant in redeeming aesthetics. Indeed, as his spectacle of shock has run its course, what was once deemed grotesque or in “bad taste” has since been rearticulated into a new kind of beauty and even the sublime. Cumulatively, his installations, sculptures, and paintings presented in this exhibition offer an important, if fragmented, overview of his formalistic and thematic thinking throughout the past two decades.