Damien Steven Hirst (born 7 June 1965) is an English artist, entrepreneur and art collector. He is the most prominent member of the group known as the Young British Artists (or YBAs), who dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s.He is internationally renowned, and is reportedly Britain’s richest living artist, with his wealth valued at £215m in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List. During the 1990s his career was closely linked with the collector Charles Saatchi, but increasing frictions came to a head in 2003 and the relationship ended.
Death is a central theme in Hirst’s works. He became famous for a series of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehyde. 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.He has also made “spin paintings,” created on a spinning circular surface, and “spot paintings”, which are rows of randomly coloured circles created by his assistants.
In September 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 £111 million ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst’s own record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde.
In several instances since 1999, sources for certain of Hirst’s works have been challenged and contested as plagiarised, both in written articles by journalists and artists, and, in one instance, through legal proceedings which led to an out-of-court settlement.
Hirst has made certain controversial statements to the media including, following the September attacks, Hirst congratulated the attackers, stating, “You’ve got to hand it to them on some level.” On 18 September 2002, he “apologised unreservedly” for the remarks.
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol and grew up in Leeds. 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.
He worked for two years on London building sites, then studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London (1986–89), although again he was refused a place the first time he applied. In 2007, Hirst was quoted as saying of An Oak Tree by Goldsmiths’ senior tutor, Michael Craig-Martin: “That piece is, I think, the greatest piece of conceptual sculpture. I still can’t get it out of my head.” While a student, Hirst had a placement at a mortuary, an experience that influenced his later themes and materials.
In July 1988, in his second year at Goldsmiths College, Hirst was the main organiser of an independent student exhibition, Freeze, in a disused London Port Authority administrative block in London’s Docklands. He gained sponsorship from theLondon Docklands Development Corporation. The show was visited by Charles Saatchi, Norman Rosenthal and Nicholas Serota, thanks to the influence of his Goldsmiths’ lecturer Michael Craig-Martin. Hirst’s own contribution to the show consisted of a cluster of cardboard boxes painted with household paint. After graduating, Hirst was included in New Contemporaries show and in a group show at Kettles Yard Gallery in Cambridge. Seeking a gallery dealer, he first approached Karsten Schubert, but was turned down.
In 1990 Hirst, along with his friend Carl Freedman and Billee Sellman, curated two enterprising “warehouse” shows, Modern Medicine and Gambler, in a Bermondsey former Peek Freans biscuit factory they designated “Building One”. Saatchi arrived at the second show in a green Rolls Royce and, according to Freedman, stood open-mouthed with astonishment in front of (and then bought) Hirst’s first major “animal” installation, A Thousand Years, consisting of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding off a rotting cow’s head. They also staged Michael Landy‘s Market. At this time, Hirst said, “I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say ‘f off’. But after a while you can get away with things.”
In 1991 his first solo exhibition, organised by Tamara Chodzko – Dial, In and Out of Love, was held in an unused shop on Woodstock Street in central London; he also had solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery in Paris. The Serpentine Gallery presented the first survey of the new generation of artists with the exhibition Broken English, in part curated by Hirst. At this time Hirst met the up-and-coming art dealer, Jay Jopling, who then represented him.
Career in contemporary art
In 1991, Charles Saatchi had offered to fund whatever artwork Hirst wanted to make, and the result was showcased in 1992 in the first Young British Artists exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in North London. Hirst’s work was titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and was a shark in formaldehyde in a vitrine, and sold for £50,000. The shark had been caught by a commissioned fisherman in Australia and had cost £6,000. It became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide. The exhibition also included A Thousand Years. As a result of the show, Hirst was nominated for that year’s Turner Prize, but it was awarded to Grenville Davey.
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
Hirst’s first major international presentation was in the Venice Biennale in 1993 with the work, Mother and Child Divided, a cow and a calf cut into sections and exhibited in a series of separate vitrines. He curated the show Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away in 1994 at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where he exhibited Away from the Flock (a sheep in a tank of formaldehyde). On 9 May, Mark Bridger, a 35 year old artist from Oxford, walked in to the gallery and poured black ink into the tank, and retitled the work Black Sheep. He was subsequently prosecuted, at Hirst’s wish, and was given two years’ probation. The sculpture was restored at a cost of £1,000.
In 1995, Hirst won the Turner Prize. New York public health officials banned Two Fucking and Two Watching featuring a rotting cow and bull, because of fears of “vomiting among the visitors”. There were solo shows in Seoul, London andSalzburg. He directed the video for the song “Country House” for the band Blur. No Sense of Absolute Corruption, his first solo show in the Gagosian Gallery in New York was staged the following year. In London the short film, Hanging Around, was shown—written and directed by Hirst and starring Eddie Izzard. In 1997 the Sensation exhibition opened at the Royal Academy in London. A Thousand Years and other works by Hirst were included, but the main controversy occurred over other artists’ works. It was nevertheless seen as the formal acceptance of the YBAs into the establishment.
In 1997, his autobiography and art book, I Want To Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, was published. With Alex James of the band Blur and actor Keith Allen, he formed the band Fat Les, achieving a number 2 hit with a raucous football-themed song Vindaloo, followed up by Jerusalem with the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Hirst also painted a simple colour pattern for the Beagle 2 probe. This pattern was to be used to calibrate the probe’s cameras after it had landed on Mars. He turned down the British Council‘s invitation to be Britain’s representative at the 1999 Venice Biennale because “it didn’t feel right”. He sued British Airways claiming a breach of copyright over an advert design with coloured spots for its low budget airline, Go.
In 2000, Hirst’s sculpture Hymn (which Saatchi had bought for a reported £1m) was given pole position at the show Ant Noises (an anagram of “sensation”) in the Saatchi Gallery. Hirst was then sued himself for breach of copyright over this sculpture (see Appropriation below). Hirst sold three more copies of his sculpture for similar amounts to the first. In September 2000, in New York, Larry Gagosian held the Hirst show, Damien Hirst: Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings. 100,000 people visited the show in 12 weeks and all the work was sold.
On 10 September 2002, on the eve of the first anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Hirst said in an interview with BBC News Online:
- “The thing about 9/11 is that it’s kind of like an artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually… You’ve got to hand it to them on some level because they’ve achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America. So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing.”
The next week, following public outrage at his remarks, he issued a statement through his company, Science Ltd:
- “I apologise unreservedly for any upset I have caused, particularly to the families of the victims of the events on that terrible day.”
Hirst gave up smoking and drinking in 2002, although the short-term result was that his wife Maia “had to move out because I was so horrible.” He had met Joe Strummer (former lead singer of The Clash) at Glastonbury in 1995, becoming good friends and going on annual family holidays with him. Just before Christmas 2002, Strummer died of a heart attack. This had a profound effect on Hirst, who said, “It was the first time I felt mortal.” He subsequently devoted a lot of time to founding a charity, Strummerville, to help young musicians.
In April 2003, the Saatchi Gallery opened at new premises in County Hall, London, with a show that included a Hirst retrospective. This brought a developing strain in his relationship with Saatchi to a head (one source of contention had been who was most responsible for boosting their mutual profile). Hirst disassociated himself from the retrospective to the extent of not including it in his CV. He was angry that a Mini car that he had decorated for charity with his trademark spots was being exhibited as a serious artwork. The show also scuppered a prospective Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern. He said Saatchi was “childish” and “I’m not Charles Saatchi’s barrel-organ monkey … He only recognises art with his wallet … he believes he can affect art values with buying power, and he still believes he can do it.”
In September 2003 he had an exhibition Romance in the Age of Uncertainty at Jay Jopling’s White Cube gallery in London, which made him a reported £11m, bringing his wealth to over £35m. It was reported that a sculpture, Charity, had been sold for £1.5m to a Korean, Kim Chang-Il, who intended to exhibit it in his department store’s gallery in Seoul. The 22-foot (6.7m), 6-ton sculpture was based on the 1960s Spastic Society’s model, which is of a girl in leg irons holding a collecting box. In Hirst’s version the collecting box is shown broken open and is empty.
Charity was exhibited in the centre of Hoxton Square, in front of the White Cube. Inside the gallery downstairs were 12 vitrines representing Jesus’s disciples, each case containing mostly gruesome, often blood-stained, items relevant to the particular disciple. At the end was an empty vitrine, representing Christ. Upstairs were four small glass cases, each containing a cow’s head stuck with scissors and knives. It has been described as an “extraordinarily spiritual experience” in the tradition of Catholic imagery. At this time Hirst bought back 12 works from Saatchi (a third of Saatchi’s holdings of Hirst’s early works), via Jay Jopling, for a total fee reported to exceed £8 million. Hirst had sold these pieces to Saatchi in the early 1990s for a considerably smaller sum, his first installations costing less than £10,000.
Virgin Mother at the 2010 Monaco Exhibition
On 24 May 2004, a fire in the Momart storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection, including 17 of Hirst’s, although the sculpture Charity survived, as it was outside in the builder’s yard. That July, Hirst said of Saatchi, “I respect Charles. There’s not really a feud. If I see him, we speak, but we were never really drinking buddies.”
In December 2004, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living was sold by Saatchi to American collector Steve Cohen, for $12 million (£6.5 million), in a deal negotiated by Hirst’s New York agent, Gagosian. Cohen, a Greenwich hedge fund manager, then donated the work to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Sir Nicholas Serota had wanted to acquire it for the Tate Gallery, and Hugo Swire, Shadow Minister for the Arts, tabled a question to ask if the government would ensure it stayed in the country. Current export regulations do not apply to living artists.
Hirst exhibited 30 paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in March 2005. These had taken 3½ years to complete. They were closely based on photos, mostly by assistants (who were rotated between paintings) but with a final finish by Hirst.
In February 2006, he opened a major show in Mexico, at the Hilario Galguera Gallery, called The Death of God, Towards a Better Understanding of Life without God aboard The Ship of Fools. The exhibition attracted considerable media coverage as Hirst’s first show in Latin America. In June that year, he exhibited alongside the work of Francis Bacon (Triptychs) at the Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street, London. Included in the exhibition was the seminal vitrine, A Thousand Years (1990), and four triptychs: paintings, medicine cabinets and a new formaldehyde work entitled The Tranquility of Solitude (For George Dyer), influenced by Bacon.
A Thousand Years, one of Hirst’s most provocative and engaging works, contains an actual life cycle. Maggots hatch inside a white minimal box, turn into flies, then feed on a bloody, severed cow’s head on the floor of a claustrophobic glass vitrine. Above, hatched flies buzz around in the closed space. Many meet a violent end in an insect-o-cutor; others survive to continue the cycle. A Thousand Years was admired by Bacon, who in a letter to a friend a month before he died, wrote about the experience of seeing the work at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Margarita Coppack notes that “It is as if Bacon, a painter with no direct heir in that medium, was handing the baton on to a new generation.” Hirst has openly acknowledged his debt to Bacon, absorbing the painter’s visceral images and obsessions early on and giving them concrete existence in sculptural form with works like A Thousand Years.
Hirst gained the auction record for the most expensive work of art by a living artist—his Lullaby Spring in June 2007, when a 3 metre-wide steel cabinet with 6,136 pills sold for 19.2 million dollars to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir ofQatar.
In June 2007, Beyond Belief, an exhibition of Hirst’s new work, opened at the White Cube gallery in London. The centre-piece, a Memento Mori titled For the Love of God, was a human skull recreated in platinum and adorned with 8,601 diamonds weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats. Approximately £15,000,000 worth of diamonds were used. It was modelled on an 18th century skull, but the only surviving human part of the original is the teeth. The asking price for For the Love of God was £50,000,000 ($100 million or 75 million euros). It didn’t sell outright, and on 30 August 2008 was sold to a consortium that included Hirst himself and his gallery White Cube.
In November 2008, the skull was exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam next to an exhibition of paintings from the museum collection selected by Hirst. Wim Pijbes, the museum director, said of the exhibition, “It boosts our image. Of course, we do the Old Masters but we are not a ‘yesterday institution’. It’s for now. And Damien Hirst shows this in a very strong way.”
Beautiful Inside My Head Forever
Beautiful Inside My Head Forever was a two day auction of Hirst’s new work at Sotheby’s, London, taking place on 15 and 16 September 2008. It was unusual as he bypassed galleries and sold directly to the public. Writing in The Independent, Cahal Milmo said that the idea of the auction was conceived by Hirst’s business advisor of 13 years, Frank Dunphy, who had to overcome Hirst’s initial reluctance about the idea.
The sale raised £111 million ($198 million) for 218 items. The auction exceeded expectations,and was ten times higher than the existing Sotheby’s record for a single artist sale, occurring as the financial markets plunged. The Sunday Times said that Hirst’s business colleagues had “propped up” the sale prices, making purchases or bids which totalled over half of the £70.5 million spent on the first sale day: Harry Blain of the Haunch of Venison gallery said that bids were entered on behalf of clients wishing to acquire the work.
Hirst lives with his Californian girlfriend, Maia Norman, by whom he has three sons: Connor Ojala, (born 1995, Kensington and Chelsea, London), Cassius Atticus (born 2000, North Devon) and Cyrus Joe (born 2005, Westminster, London).Since the birth of Connor, he has spent most of his time at his remote farmhouse, a 300 year old former inn, near Combe Martin, Devon. Hirst and Norman are not married,although Hirst refers to Norman as his “common-law wife”. The artist owns a large compound in Baja, Mexico which serves as a part-time residence and art studio. The studio employs several artists that carry out Hirst’s projects.
Hirst has admitted serious drug and alcohol problems during a ten year period from the early 1990s: “I started taking cocaine and drink… I turned into a babbling fucking wreck.” During this time he was renowned for his wild behaviour and eccentric acts, including for example, putting a cigarette in the end of his penis in front of journalists. He frequented the high profile Groucho Club in Soho, London, and was banned on occasion for his behaviour.
Hirst is reputed to be the richest living artist to date. In 2009, the annually collated chart of the wealthiest individuals in Britain and Ireland, Sunday Times Rich List, placed Hirst at joint number 238 with a net worth of £235m. Hirst’s wealth was valued at £215m in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List, hence Damien Hirst is Britain’s wealthiest artist.
In September 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 £111 million ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst’s own record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde.
In several instances since 1999, the sources for certain of Hirst’s works have been challenged and contested, both in written articles by journalists and artists, and, in one instance, through legal proceedings which led to an out-of-court settlement.
MARKET ANALYSIS UPDATED 2011
Current Auction Record:
stainless steel and glass cabinet with painted cast pills 2002
Height 72 in.; Width 108 in.; Depth 4 in.
Sotheby’s London: Thursday, June 21, 2007 [Lot 00036]
Contemporary Evening Sale
The big prices for Hirst were achieved mostly around 2008 particularly at the Beautiful Forever sale, where the prices achieved account for almost all the top one hundred sale results. This sale was perfectly timed to capitalise on the hype surrounding the artist and there is a strong sense now that this does not reflect the true values.
Since that sale when many lots sold into the millions of dollars, there has been little at auction at least, to support the structure and it would seem that many owners are holding back the consignment of Hirst’s works in the hope of a recovery. This is complicated by the lack of detail about the true levels of production and nervousness about the stock held by Hirst’s dealers.
The market has consolidated to some degree however and demand is strong when prices are realistic.