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  • Provenance

    White Cube, London

  • Exhibited

    Kiev, PinchukArtCentre, Damien Hirst: Requiem, April 25 – September 20, 2009

  • Literature

    E. Schneider, Damien Hirst: Requiem, London:Kiev 2009, p. 140 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I think it is that direct communication, in true painting, that direct communication with your feelings is much closer than anything else you can get. DAMIEN HIRST

    (Damien Hirst, 2004 taken from an interview with M. d’Argenzio, Damien Hirst, Naples, 2004, p. 104)

    As we see in Au-195m, 2008, Damien Hirst has continually questioned our uncompromising faith in modern medicine. From his early medicine cabinets, which revealed Western society’s overwhelming dependence upon various brands and labels for medicinal satisfaction, to his glorification of pharmaceutical organization in 2000’s The Void, Hirst has made the skewering and investigation of the medicine industry a trademark subject in his work. Frequently utilizing visual seduction as a means of enticing the viewer, Hirst’s pieces unveil their subversive roots as their facades fade away. Underneath, we observe his conflicted inspirations: battles of pharmaceutical corporations, mirrors of our own addiction to anti-depressants and pain killers, and, of course, the drive for staving off the inevitable and striving for immortality. The
    present lot’s theoretical basis comes from Hirst’s brilliant marriage of two of humanity’s vain pursuits: our hunger for gold and our desperation for life.

    Tracing its roots to his original “Freeze” exhibition in 1988, Hirst takes issue with society’s near-religious faith in modern medicine as a panacea, and he has employed his various forms of artistic industry to address his concern. Au-195m, 2008 is a recent incarnation of one of Hirst’s most prolific series: the spot paintings. Each spot painting, beneath an aesthetically pleasing exterior, betrays the molecular make-up of its title, which is, in turn, a chemical either ingested or employed in modern medicine. Hirst takes as his inspiration humanity’s fascination with pure saturation of hue: “These paintings summarize and coagulate the symbology of colours—a synthesis of chromatology in the history of humanity and its universality—from religion to psychoanalysis, from alchemy to industrial marketing”(M. Codognato. “Warning Labels”, Damien Hirst, Naples, p. 41). However, as if to hint at the greater arena of interest, Hirst only ever employs a single hue once on his canvas. Even in a spot painting consisting of hundreds of elemental dots, each color is unique. In doing so, Hirst begets a vision of incompletion, as he denies us our usually comforting practice of finding chromatic harmony in visual art.

    From a purely formal perspective, the present lot represents Hirst’s painterly reaction to an artistic conundrum; as a modern artist, Hirst has attested that he bears the anxiety of influence from his forbearers. Stylistically, he sees no easy answers for the question of originality or progression in painting itself, seeing Jackson Pollock’s work as the logical end of painterly innovation. Yet Hirst still paints from an inward desire to create: “The urge to be a painter is still there even if the process of painting is meaningless, old fashioned”(Damien Hirst, 1997 from “On Dumb Painting”, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London, 2005, p. 246). Consequently, he has reduced his stylistic means and magnified the meaning of his content; his spot paintings are metaphors and scientific expressions.

    Au-195m takes its title from the elemental code for a specific isotope for gold. While stable gold has the atomic number of 79 (the number of protons in its nucleus) with a total atomic mass of 197 (the total number of protons and neutrons in its nucleus), Hirst’s subject is a rare form of naturally occurring gold, one that we do not normally find in our watches and earrings. Yet Hirst’s colorful canvas still possesses the visceral appeal of the legendary temptress. One hundred and twenty saucers of unique hues spread across the canvas, some candied in their aesthetic charm, some darker in garnet tones or nearly black in their saturation. Yet, as a whole, the dots pale in comparison to the brilliance of their background; Hirst’s fantastically gold enamel gives us a lively interaction with the glossed spots that it supports. Much as electrons move in their continual orbit around a nucleus, Hirst’s magnificent rendering demonstrates a certain static velocity when viewed from a distance: the various colors seem to recede then appear again, popping up from the surface with individual assertions of their unique existences.

    But the common use of Hirst’s golden element belies its gorgeous portrayal on the canvas. As a radio-isotope, Au-195m can only be divined from an unstable isotope of mercury, a real-life example of the fabled quest of alchemy—the creation of gold from the earth. As it comes into existence from the decay of its mother element, Au-195m only exists in its pure form for a few seconds before it breaks down itself. Ephemeral in its existence, it is useful in medicine for its place in nuclear cardiology—the field of medicine that uses medical imaging to detect deficiencies in a patient’s heart function. In the present lot, Hirst’s subject is not a cure-all that relieves pain or incites euphoria; rather, it is a means to discovering a diagnosis, a medical middle-man between doctor and disease. Au-195m’s use in medical machinery conjures the environment of the hospital, rich in its wealth of emotional associations: “The hospital, with its rituals and distinctive architecture, its terrifying and therapeutic instruments, at the same time repulsive and necessary, forms a territory, visual as well as otherwise, where safety and anxiety, healing and death, hope and resignation and finally good and evil are put into play, in a simultaneity of unpredictable effects” (M. Codognato. “Warning Labels”, Damien Hirst, Naples”, p. 26).

    In the present lot, we see the bizarre interaction of alchemy and immortality, an almost mythical crossroads of our two most vainglorious pursuits: alchemy and immortality. In the end, Hirst chooses to render the weight of their combination in a medium that he affirms as the most communicative with human feeling: paint. In doing so, Hirst’s simple spot painting achieves a far more resonant effect than the sum of its parts would indicate. The glow of our greatest human success comes through in myriad colors, set against the background of our most eternal human failing.

  • Artist Biography

    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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enamel paint and household gloss on canvas
76 x 92 in. (193.0 x 233.7 cm)
Signed and dated “Damien Hirst 2008” on the reverse.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York