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Damien Hirst: Bizarre Art, Commercial Vanity or Genius?

Art, Featured — By on June 6, 2011 2:28 pm

The English artist, Damien Hirst either evokes gasps of shock, fits of giggles or a furrowing of the brow with thought provoked.  Personally, he evokes none of these feelings; instead, it is far worse for an artist – it is indifference.

Let’s take a look at some of Hirst’s works first and we’ll take a look at what is going on with them and whether the reaction to his work as “art” is justified or not.

Hirst was a leading member of the “Young British Artists”, a cabal of artists primarily supported by the name and money of Charles Saatchi, an advertising mogul, and which also included artists such as Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Angela Bulloch, Mat Collishaw and Ian Davenport.

Damien Hirst

Saatchi first came across Hirst at the Freeze Exhibition in London in 1988, of which Hirst was the prime mover.  Saatchi bought Hirst’s central piece – a rotting cow’s head being eaten by maggots (known as A Thousand Years).  Just how bad is this?  Hirst’s own words make it clear; “”I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it.”  More than this, Hirst said, “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.”

a thousand years

Nevertheless, Hirst entrenched his position as one of the 90’s shock artists, forming the core of the Britart explosion which burst onto the world scene.  Further, large scale art installations followed, closely mimicking the theme of death and decay, but there was a clear pattern of behavior – shock followed by sale.

Today, Hirst is one of the wealthiest living artists in the world with a personal wealth valued in excess of $380 million created by sales of his work.  This obscene amount of money from selling decayed preservation, says much about the gullibility of “collectors”.

Following the “success” of A Thousand Years, further “works” followed using the dissected remains of animals, typically cows and sheep.  One of the most impressive pieces is that of a 14 foot tiger shark pickled in formaldehyde with the impossibly vain title of “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of the Living”.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of the Living

The shark exhibit probably demonstrates the superficial nature of Hirst’s work; while striking in presentation, it is not the piece which evokes a reaction but the fact that it is a Tiger Shark.  There is no art involved per se, but the artist whose work is on display is of course, Mother Nature, whose beauty shines through despite the ugliness of Hirst’s setting.

Nevertheless, the “shark” became an icon of the art world in the 1990’s and Britart in particular.  Perhaps the shark is representative of Hirst’s own need for money and acclaim without the hard work or evocation of true genius; much of Hirst’s work is in fact made by “apprentices” rather than Hirst himself.  Hirst himself is an extremely savvy businessman who looks at his name as a brand rather than an artistic gift for others to enjoy and appreciate.

Hirst recently eschewed the gallery circuit and proceeded to Sotheby’s, the international auction house with the contents of an entire art show; Beautiful Inside My Head Forever.  The auction, solely of Hirst’s own works, broke all records for a one-artist auction and Hirst’s own personal record – the auction raised $198 million with The Golden Calf, possessing pure gold horns coupled with formaldehyde-preserved hooves, fetched $16 million.

the golden calf

More art by Damien Hirst:






Lullaby Spring

Lullaby Spring

For the Love of God

For the Love of God




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