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  • Provenance

    Haunch of Venison, London

  • Catalogue Essay

    Art is like medicine – it can heal. Yet I’ve always been amazed at how many people believe in medicine but don’t believe in art, without questioning either.                                                                                                        D. Hirst, i want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997, p. 246
    The current lot is an impressive example of Damien Hirst’s paintings of spots from the ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’ series. On a superficial level, the painting has a playful quality with its multi-colored dots, but upon closer observation, one realizes the subversive subject matter underpinned by the chemical compound title. The work serves as a critique of our overmedicated society and the unregulated dispersal of pharmaceutical prescriptions.
    4-Fluoro-3-Nitrotoluene’s visual pleasure rises out of the several hundred uniquely colored spots that are arranged in a geometric grid, equidistant from one another. The pattern implies order, but when inspecting the colors closely, one realizes that no two spots are the same pigment. Each differs slightly creating a dizzying effect that plays with one’s eyes and generates an underlying sensation of chaos. “If you look closely at one of these paintings a strange thing happens: because of the lack of repeated colors there is no harmony.We are used to picking out chords of the same color and balancing them with different chords of other colours to create meaning.This can’t happen. So in every painting there is subliminal sense of unease; yet the colours project so much joy it’s hard to feel it, but it’sthere,” (Ibid).
    The dots trick the eye and make it difficult to focus on one color. Each circle is arranged in carefully measured rows and columns. The painting almost appears computer generated. The hand behind the creation of this painting is disguised behind the machine-like quality of the work. Hirst was quoted saying, “I like the way the paintings look like they could have been made by a big machine – the machine being the artist in the future,” (Ibid).
    4-Fluoro-3-Nitrotoluene is part of an endless series of paintings. The various possibilities of colored dot combinations on Hirst’s canvases metaphorically stand for the infinite chemical compounds that exist in the medical field. Hirst describes the series as, “a scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies’ scientific approach to life,” (Ibid).
    Prior to, and during the same period that Hirst was creating his spot paintings, he was developing another unique body of work that closely relates to the subject of medicine. This work was his medicine cabinet series, which he stocked with prescription drugs. These cabinets appear as if they were taken directly out of a person’s bathroom and prepped for exhibition. It is evident that the installation of the drugs in each of his medicine cabinets helped lay the foundation for Hirst’s compositional constructions and his close attention to order, as seen in the present lot. This organizational inclination is visible in other work by Hirst, such as the cigarette butts organized on shelves and the cast hand-painted pills in stainless steel cabinets. Each individual object, whether it is the cigarette, the pill, or the spot, acts as an accessory to the greater composition, therefore rendering them totally equal and void of specific importance, while still assuring them as completely essential to the entire work. In 4-Fluoro-3-Nitrotoluene, the contained dots come together to form the work’s compositional whole.

  • 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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Gloss household paint on canvas.

49 x 47 in. (124.5 x 119.4 cm).

Signed, titled, and dated “Damien Hirst 4-Fluoro-3-Nitrotoluene 2006” on the reverse; signed “D. Hirst” on the stretcher.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

13 Nov 2008, 7pm
New York