Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Damien Hirst, 'Antipyrylazo III', Lot 16

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Jay Jopling, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1994

  • Exhibited

    London, Gagosian Gallery, Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, 12 January - 18 February 2012, p. 828 (illustrated, p. 75)

  • Literature

    Robert Violette, ed., Damien Hirst: I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997-2005, p. 236 (illustrated)
    Jason Beard and Millicent Wilner, eds., Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, London, 2013, p. 828 (illustrated, p. 75)

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘To create that structure, to do those colours, and do nothing. I suddenly got what I wanted. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of colour’ - Damien Hirst

    Congregated on a vast, white support, fifty colourful spots run across the elongated expanse of Antipyrylazo III, 1994, while forty-one descend down its two metre height, making for a joyous amalgamation of 2,050 bright circular units. An early example of Damien Hirst’s infamous Spot Paintings – which comprise thirteen sub-series, and a total of more than 1,500 canvases – Antipyrylazo III falls within the artist’s sustained investigation of the medical realm, taking after a similarly named chemical tool indicating the presence of calcium and magnesium in natural materials. With this niche, obscure title, pulled from the revered thematic catalogue Biochemicals for Research and Diagnostic Reagents that the artist first stumbled across in the early 1990s, Hirst delves into a territory that eludes easy comprehension. He then paradoxically pairs the work's esoteric designation with an image that is clear and recognisable to all: candy-like spots proliferating with jubilant energy. Regarding the medicinal nature of the title, Hirst elucidated, 'I started them as an endless series… A scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies’ scientific approach to life. Art doesn’t purport to have all the answers; the drug companies do. Hence the title of the series [...] and the individual titles of the paintings themselves' (Damien Hirst, quoted in Robert Violette, ed., 'On Dumb Painting', Damien Hirst: I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997-2005, p. 246).

    Though upon visualising the series, one may think of Hirst’s more recent Spot Paintings – those that boast unequivocally pristine, thick and glossy surfaces – the story of the artist’s pharmaceutical body of work goes back to his student days at Goldsmiths College of Art, London. Hirst made his first Spot Painting on canvas in 1988, following some loose hand-painted spots on board from 1986, and two near-identical arrangements applied directly on the wall from 1988. This preliminary work was entitled Untitled (with Black Dot), and was a rare work from the series to contain the colour black. The present painting, executed just six years later, benefits from years of practice and refined instructions, while at the same time retaining the matte quality of Hirst’s early spots. The colour from each dot is not restricted by an overarching sense of flatness – like they often are in recent formulations – but instead delves into new layers of depth, perhaps enabled by a minute, lesser use of prime that in turn allows for subtly varying levels of thickness to interact at the surface.

    Indeed, only the first few dozen Spot Paintings were made by Hirst alone, as the rest became part of a larger production system soliciting the help of assistants. Hirst’s mature works thus not only remove drawing traces in their immaculate, spotless rendition, but furthermore negate the artist’s hand, promoting a kind of artistic mechanism that readily espouses his conceptual approach to the painterly medium. Any physical evidence of human intervention – such as the compass point left at the centre of each spot – vanishes, until the works appear to have been constructed perfunctorily, or ‘by a person trying to paint like a machine’ (Damien Hirst, in conversation with Sophie Calle, Internal Affairs, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1991, reproduced online). For Hirst, this technique marked a departure from years of experimenting with paint and collage, and the first result of his search for a truly contemporary art form, coming as close as possible to formal perfection. Yet with Antipyrylazo III, extremely faint traces of pencil around certain dots recall the artist’s early craft, when he and the canvas were at one – an exceptional and rare feat in his eponymous body of work.

    In this perspective, Hirst asserts that his approach to the Spot Paintings had more to do with their embodiment of the painterly medium than with sheer perceptual experimentation with colour or space. '[T]hey have nothing to do with Richter or Poons or Bridget Riley or Albers or even Op’, he said. ‘They’re about the urge or the need to be a painter above and beyond the object of painting. I’ve often said that they are like sculptures of painting' (Damien Hirst, quoted in Jason Beard and Millicent Wilner, eds., ‘On Dumb Painting’, Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, London, 2013, p. 246). It is the technique employed in the making of Antipyrylazo III that differentiates it from other types of experimentation; the resulting aesthetic engenders an immediate response with a sleek, minimalist approach. In its laborious and painstaking reproduction of each circle, Antipyrylazo III exploits the powers of illusion allowed by the painterly medium at its heights.

    The element of organisation – both with respect to structure and colour – is of quintessential importance in Antipyrylazo III. The spots are structured on a grid; a seminal art historical tool that allows painters and sculptors to bring their visions – real or abstract – to life. The grid, wrote Rosalind Krauss, is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature. Yet in the frenetic repetition of the single pattern, disseminated across three decades of Hirst’s output, the artist has transcended the grid held within his two-dimensional support. Showing his Spot Paintings in a group and all over the world has indeed become part of their content and meaning: they are infiltrating everywhere, their field expanding to cover the world itself. The use of an iconic image as a brand, a point of departure from which to multiply ad infinitum holds visual and conceptual similarities with the gestures of Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Yayoi Kusama, who also repeatedly deployed the same pattern within their work – a beaming dash, a succession of slabs, or myriad recurring visions of dots, pumpkins and eyes. In the very nature of Hirst's recurring pattern – the spot – Antipyrylazo III furthermore recalls the traditional technique of Pointillism, which sought to compose a single image with small dots exclusively. In this perspective, the present work could posit as the section of a pointillist canvas under microscope; a snapshot of the image upon total abstraction.

    It is in the plethora of references it conjures that Antipyrylazo III encapsulates the complexity of life itself. Named after a biological indicator, it gestures outwards to new horizons, only to finally return to its initial scientific realm, summoning multifaceted notions of life and death. In its grand size and sublime rendering, the work exists as an exceptional and seminal example of Hirst’s broader investigation.

  • 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.

    View More Works

The Robert Tibbles Collection: Young British Artists & More

Ο ◆16

Antipyrylazo III

signed 'D Hirst' on the reverse
household gloss on canvas
205.7 x 251.5 cm (80 7/8 x 99 in.)
Executed in 1994.

£900,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for £1,275,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020