Disintegration - The Crown of Life

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Gagosian Gallery, Damien Hirst: Superstition, February 22 – April 5, 2007

  • Literature

    M. Wilner, Damien Hirst: Superstition, London, 2007, p. 45 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I want to make artwork that makes people question their own lives, rather than give them any answers. Because answers always turn out to be wrong further down the line, but questions are exciting forever. DAMIEN HIRST

    (Damien Hirst, “Interview with Robert Ayers”, ARTINFO, March 14, 2007).

    A keystone of Damien Hirst’s 2006 series, “Superstition”, the present lot, Disintegration-The Crown of Life, 2006 possesses an epic scale matched only by its magnificent ability to dazzle. Each canvas from the series is comprised of thousands of gossamer butterfly wings laid on a monochromatic surface. Long before one perceives the meticulous detail of the surface, the sheer scale of the work radiates with a celestial brilliance. Emulating the splendor of cathedral windows, the shaped canvas is placed in a black frame to further allude to a pane of stained glass. As seen in the present lot, the radiating patterns created by the painstaking placement of the wings mesmerize the viewer like a kaleidoscope. The pulsating forms are spellbinding in their symmetry, regularity, and sheer magnitude. Experiencing these canvases can only be compared to the overwhelming power and majesty felt when walking towards the illuminated nave of a Thirteenth Century gothic cathedral— Chartres, Canterbury, Notre-Dame de Paris, or Reims. The viewer becomes so seduced by the irresistible beauty and spiritual power that the shocking nature of the work’s construction—thousands of dead butterflies trapped on wet paint—is thwarted by its visual splendor.

    Each painting in Hirst’s series “Superstition” has two titles. The first is taken from a poem in Philip Larkin’s 1974 collection High Windows. Larkin is considered one of the greatest English poets of the latter half of the Twentieth Century. His poems, at once nihilistic and immensely spiritual, seek to convey the discontented and pessimistic sentiments of postwar Great Britain. Through a colloquial voice, Larkin explores the hardships of life that the lower classes were fated to face. His poems succeed in being both resonantly beautiful and profoundly disturbing in their reflections on remorse, age, and spoiled desire. In the final stanza of Disintegration, Larkin writes, “Time over the roofs of what has nearly been/Circling, a migratory, static bird/Predicts no change in future’s lancing shape/And daylight shows the streets still tangles up/Time
    points the simian camera in the head/Upon confusion to be seen and seen.” Larkin’s haunting ambiguity makes perfect fodder for Hirst’s exploration of life
    and death.

    The second half of each title within the series is drawn directly from religious texts; in the case of the present lot, the title “The Crown of Life” is taken from The Epistle of James, Chapter 1, Verse 12, and promises God’s blessing to those who persevere under trial:

    Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love
    him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
    (James 1:12 – 1:15 Receiving The Crown of Life)

    This verse, coupled with Larkin’s lyrical passage, produces a title that encapsulates the artist’s penchant for finding poetry in the way we live and in our surroundings.

    Taking as his subject matter our natural environment, Hirst employs macabre elements not only as inspiration, but also as the actual make up of the work. Butterflies, both living and dead, have been central to the artist’s work ever since the early 1990s. In describing his early interest in the insects, he explains, “I had them in my bedroom... I got wooden frames and nylon mesh and I made a huge box in my bedroom. It took up half the bedroom... I found out where you could buy the pupae and all that kind of stuff and I got them all. I got them all in my bedroom and I bred them in my bedroom. I remember it because I was so cramped. There was only room for my bed and the box.” (Damien Hirst quoted in E. Cicelyn, Damien Hirst, Naples, 2004, p. 78). The brilliant colors of their wings, the elegance of their movement, and their fleeting lifecycle make these evanescent creatures the ultimate depiction of beauty and fragility of life, and thus, an ideal medium for Hirst’s work.

    Hirst’s artistic lepidopterology of breeding, collecting and studying butterflies was utilized in his first solo exhibition at the Woodstock Street Gallery in 1991, entitled In and Out of Love. He filled the upper level of the gallery with hundreds of live tropical butterflies, some of which were hatched from white monochrome canvases that hung on the walls. On the lower level, he exhibited his first butterfly paintings, in which the corpses of the insects were laid on colored monochromatic canvases. Upstairs, the insects completed their entire cycle of life within the gallery space, while downstairs they were trapped in the wet paint in the suspended animation of beauty.

    As he explains, “I had white paintings with shelves on and the paintings had live pupae for butterflies glued on them. The pupae hatched from the paintings and flew around, so it was like an environment for butterflies. It was white paintings upstairs. Then downstairs I had another table which had ashtrays on it and canvases with dead butterflies stuck in the paint…Then you get the beauty of the butterfly, but it is actually something horrible. It is like a butterfly has flown around and died horribly in the paint. The death of an insect that still has this really optimistic beauty of a wonderful thing.” (Damien Hirst quoted in E. Cicelyn, Damien Hirst, Naples, 2004, p. 74-83).

    The inevitable mortality of all living beings has always been at the forefront of Damien Hirst’s oeuvre. The present lot, in its beautiful and tragic poignancy, blurs the boundaries of religion, science and death. While Gothic glass windows provide a visual language that brilliantly narrates, dazzles and stuns with biblical iconography, beauty and scale, Hirst’s own medium has an original language. In their delicacy, butterfly wings mirror our own human fear of mortality and our hope for immortality, and Hirst completes the historical connection by projecting these hopes and fears onto an inherently religious phenomenon.

    Hirst confines the winged angels to a geometric prison beneath a thick pane of glass, their iridescence still evident in death. As the wet paint deprives them of the freedom of flight, they cannot escape their sticky cemetery. The immaculate patterns produce waves of intense and pulsating colors, which extend from the central floral motif and the six surrounding medallions. The tessellation of the wings entices us to overlook the horror of its creation, producing a sublime chromatic surface that radiates in all its glory. Hirst’s combination of geometry and the beauty of the natural world amount to a flawless scientific process, one that inspires as much awe as the windows
    at Notre Dame de Paris. But Hirst’s creation does not emphasize the glory of death; rather he aims to highlight the evanescence of existence. As Hirst himself has declared, “I think I’ve got an obsession with death, but I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid. You can’t have one without the other” (Damien Hirst quoted in G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 21).

  • Artist Bio

    Damien Hirst

    British • 1965

    There is no other contemporary artist as maverick to the art market as Damien Hirst. Foremost among the Young British Artists (YBAs), a group of provocative artists who graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London in the late 1980s, Hirst ascended to stardom by making objects that shocked and appalled, and that possessed conceptual depth in both profound and prankish ways.

    Regarded as Britain's most notorious living artist, Hirst has studded human skulls in diamonds and submerged sharks, sheep and other dead animals in custom vitrines of formaldehyde. In tandem with Cheyenne Westphal, now Chairman of Phillips, Hirst controversially staged an entire exhibition directly for auction with 2008's "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," which collectively totalled £111 million ($198 million).

    Hirst remains genre-defying and creates everything from sculpture, prints, works on paper and paintings to installation and objects. Another of his most celebrated series, the 'Pill Cabinets' present rows of intricate pills, cast individually in metal, plaster and resin, in sterilized glass and steel containers; Phillips New York showed the largest of these pieces ever exhibited in the United States, The Void, 2000, in May 2017.

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PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION

Disintegration - The Crown of Life

2006
butterflies and household gloss on canvas
unframed: 110 3/8 x 72 1/8 in. (280.4 x 183.2 cm)
framed: 117 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. (299.1 x 200 cm)

Signed, titled and dated “Damien Hirst, ‘The Crown of Life,’ 2006” on the reverse.

Estimate
$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

sold for $1,426,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York