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

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  • Video

    Damien Hirst, 'Bodies', Lot 17

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Karsten Schubert, London (acquired directly from the artist in 1989)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989

  • Exhibited

    London, Goldsmiths College, Degree Show, 1989
    Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Damien Hirst. The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selected Works from 1989-2004, 31 October 2004 - 31 January 2005, p. 254 (illustrated, p. 63)
    New York, L&M Arts, Damien Hirst: The Complete Medicine Cabinets, 28 October - 11 December 2010, pp. 76 and 176 (the present work illustrated, pp. 75, 77, degree show illustrated, p. 199)
    London, Tate Modern, Damien Hirst, 4 April - 9 September 2012, p. 232 (illustrated, p. 69)

  • 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. 332 (illustrated, p. 210)
    Jeremy Cooper, No Fun Without U: The Art of Factual Nonsense, London, 2000, p. 13 (degree show illustrated, p. 13)
    Elizabeth Fullerton, ARTRAGE! The Story of the Britart Revolution, London, 2016, pp. 46-47 (degree show illustrated, p. 46)

  • Catalogue Essay

    'I can’t understand why most people believe in medicine and don’t believe in art, without questioning either’ - Damien Hirst

    Created at the genesis of Damien Hirst’s career, Bodies, 1989, marked a watershed in the artist’s practice, as well as a significant milestone in the history of contemporary British art. With its distinct pharmacological subject matter, the sculpture presaged an array of works within Hirst’s oeuvre – most notably his two pharmacy-themed installations, his Pill Cabinets and Spot Paintings, as well as his restaurant Pharmacy, 1998-2003. The artist first inaugurated his thematic vision with two medicine cabinets entitled Sinner, 1988, and Enemy, 1988-89, which he filled with remnants of his late grandmother’s medication. These preliminary formulations, executed during his second year at Goldsmiths College of Art in London, were followed by a sequence of thirteen cabinets, named after the twelve songs of the Sex Pistols’ UK debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, with two units referring to the seminal track God Save the Queen. The first four from the grouping – Bodies, Liar, Seventeen and Pretty Vacant – were exhibited at the artist’s degree show in a shared space with his peer Angus Fairhurst, forming the bedrock of the series. From the Medicine Cabinets, one resides at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München, and three are housed in the eminent collections of Bruno Bischofberger, Irma and Norman Braman, and Vicki and Kent Logan (promised gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Bodies, an early formulation from the series and the embodiment of track number 2 from the Sex Pistols’ album, posits as a precocious sign of Hirst’s rebellious spirit and unflinching audacity.

    In 1989, Bodies was immediately bought by the German gallerist Karsten Schubert from Hirst's degree show along with three other cabinets, before being purchased by the British collector Robert Tibbles, with whom the work – along with a multitude of YBA treasures – has remained for almost thirty years. Along these three decades, Bodies was shown only three times following Hirst’s graduation show: once, at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples; then, alongside eleven counterparts at L&M Arts, New York, exactly ten years ago; and finally in 2012 at Tate Modern, London, on the occasion of Hirst’s first substantial survey in a British institution. The spectacular nature of Bodies is thus threefold. Firstly, its importance within Hirst’s oeuvre – as an undisputed masterpiece from his celebrated Medicine series – is veritably unparalleled. Secondly, its provenance – held in the same collection essentially since conception – tells a story of passion, trust and courage, that close to no other collection could boast. And finally, its meaning today, tying historical and personal significance, transcends artistic intention and takes on an added symbolic layer, which encompasses the importance of the owner as patron. It is only upon seeing the work – and taking a step back from its storied parcours – that one can be brought back to its fundamental conceptual genius, and made to understand the gesture from which Hirst departed as a 23 year-old student, studying at Goldsmiths alongside a generation of equally irreverent artists.

    From an innocent and uninformed perspective, a first encounter with Bodies grants the viewer with a succession of interrogations. Though the object of the cabinet is immediately familiar and recognisable, the arrangement of the medical elements is deeply enigmatic – too perfect, too aesthetic, and therefore designed to spur confusion as to whether its constitution was deliberate or entirely random. The used packages, described by Hirst as ‘empty fucking vessels’, are believed to have been originally arranged as if the cabinet were itself a body, each item placed according to the organs it relates to. 'I chose the size and shape of the cabinet like a body. I wanted it to be kind of human, like with an abdomen and a chest and guts’, the artist said. ‘Then I played around with the idea of putting the head at the top and those for your feet at the bottom and in doing something like that. I started trying to find out what all the drugs were’ (Damien Hirst, quoted in ‘Pharmaceutical Heaven’, Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 2004, pp. 105-106). Yet Hirst quickly outgrew this system, overtaken by his desire to arrange the cabinets arbitrarily, according to colours and patterns. ‘In the end, coming from that background of colour arranging, I can’t resist doing it in terms of colour. Everything is done in terms of colour and what it looks like. The whole cabinet really is just an illusion, just to hide behind the fact of making those old fashioned decisions I think’ (Damien Hirst, quoted in ‘Pharmaceutical Heaven’, Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 2004, pp. 105-106).

    The cabinets’ arbitrary arrangements furthermore echoes the multiplicity of meaning that radiates from their enigmatic shells. Bodies, as such, is evocative of a plethora of visual references and historical notions. On the one hand, it provides an art historical nod to Kurt Schwitters’ collages and Joseph Cornell’s ingenious assemblages; on the other, it echoes the formal concerns of such seminal figures as Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd. In its artistic displacement of a real, recognisable object, the sculpture also calls to mind Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes – culled from the environment of a supermarket – that indeed resonate with Hirst’s desire to have his cabinets look like those he saw in pharmacies. Being part of an endlessly ambivalent series, Bodies’ meaning seems perpetually in process, awaiting the thoughts and interpretations of its newcoming spectators. In a compelling anecdote, Hirst described the response of a particular viewer who had a distinct understanding of the drugs’ arrangement; having worked in the medical industry, she had in mind a physician’s very real and strategic placement of the medication packages. After staring at the object for some time, the viewer said she could not figure out Hirst’s cabinet; to her, it made no clinical sense, and was in fact a total mess – this, despite the fact it may have appeared exactly the opposite to an unsuspecting eye: neat, clinical and orderly.

    Of paramount importance in Bodies is also the theme at its core, deeply entrenched in all of Hirst’s subsequent works. Indeed, Bodies refers to Hirst’s preferred – and most employed – subject matter: the dichotomy of life and death, and the uniquely special, iridescent, and fragile line separating the two. 'I’m going to die and I want to live forever', the artist confessed to Sophie Calle. She asked in return, 'You obviously don’t think that drugs can cure this problem, if indeed it is a problem, but do you think that art can?' ‘No’, he responded, ‘but I’m not going to stop trying. I know it's impossible to believe it, and impossible for me to not… If I follow my ideas about art through to their final conclusion I realize I shouldn’t make art, but I still do’ (Damien Hirst, in conversation with Sophie Calle, Internal Affairs, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1991, reproduced online). If it is not Bodies and its myriad medical contents that will save Hirst from the great leveller of death, it could perhaps be the idea behind it – the conceptual host allowing him to look beyond the mere physicality of the world. This seems to be at the heart of Hirst’s conceptual intention, overarching the entirety of his oeuvre.

    Art – not medicine – is the cure. This is something he vividly expressed in the context of explaining his cabinets. 'I cannot understand why some people believe completely in medicine and not in art’, he said ‘without questioning either. I was with my mum in the chemist’s; she was getting a prescription. And it was, like, complete trust on the sculpture and organizing shapes, one level in something she’s equally in the dark about. In the medicine cabinets there’s no actual medicines in the bottles. It's just completely packaging and formal sculptures and organized shapes. My mum was looking at the same kind of stuff in the chemist’s and believing in it completely. And then, when looking at it in an art gallery, completely not believing in it. And as far as I could see it was the same thing. And for a long time I’d seen that. I knew that was going on. And I was thinking “If I could only make art like that – that did that”. And then in the end, I just decided to do that directly. I’ve always loved the idea of art maybe, you know, curing people. And I have this kind of obsession with the body’ (Damien Hirst, quoted in Arthur C. Danto, ‘Damien Hirst’s Medicine Cabinets: Art, Death, Sex, Society and Drugs’, The Complete Medicine Cabinets, exh. cat., L&M Fine Arts, New York, 2010, reproduced online).

  • 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 ◆17


signed, titled and dated ‘Damien Hirst Bodies 1989’ on the reverse
glass, faced particleboard, ramin, plastic, aluminium and pharmaceutical packaging
137.2 x 101.6 x 22.9 cm (54 x 40 x 9 in.)
Executed in 1989.

£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for £1,368,600

Contact Specialist

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


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020