Damien Hirst - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Saturday, June 28, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills

  • Exhibited

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

  • Literature

    Exhibition Catalogue, Damien Hirst – Superstition, London, 2007, p. 22 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "Time and knowledge of life's finite nature determine the alienation and anxiety that accompany individuals throughout their existence... Religion promises eternal time beyond terrestrial life. Science seeks to optimize and prolong the life cycle to the greatest extent possible. Art through the work of art, tends to exalt and extend into future time and memory... In contemporary life, all ... expand and break through their boundaries, alleviating some sense to life and compensation for its fragility." (M. Codognato, ‘Warning Labels' in Damien Hirst, Naples, 2004, pp. 25 & 26)
    Since the early centuries of the Christian Church, the butterfly has symbolised the resurrection and life after death. The caterpillar signifies life here on earth; the cocoon, death; and the butterfly, the emergence of the dead into a new, beautiful and freer existence. Artistic depictions of butterflies have been used in cultures across the globe. In some, butterflies symbolise rebirth into a new life, others relay on the butterfly as a sign of good luck or even love. Yet in some ancient cultures, it is believed that the butterfly is the personification of a person's soul; whether they may be living, dying or already dead. In ancient Greece however, the word butterfly, literally translates into the word soul, referencing the mythological goddess ‘Psyche', who was married to Eros, the G'd of love and lust.
    Throughout Damien Hirst's career he has challenged the very ideas of existence, whether biological or aesthetic his works question the ideas fragility and transience of life and the imminence of death. His art provokes a critical dialogue by calling into questions our awareness of those boundaries that separate desire and fear, life and death, reason and faith, love and hate. Yet, it is through his art, where the iconography if of science or religion creates sculptures and paintings whose beauty and intensity give insight into art that transcends our familiar understanding of those domains.
    Appearing for the first time in 1991, Hirst's Butterfly paintings have become a central, if not the most central core of his painting on canvas repertoire. In the present lot, The Importance of Elsewhere – The Kingdom of Heaven, actual butterfly wings of all shapes, sizes and colours are seemingly trapped on a background of monochrome gloss paint, positioned to help form the illusion of a high church window. With its vivid and vibrant shades, there is an overarching sense of balance and symmetry within the work allowing each butterfly's placement within the larger group of wings to be viewed.
    Shaping his canvas to resemble that of a stained-glass church window and titling his work with reference to religion, Importance of Elsewhere – The Kingdom of Heaven, is a seminal painting in Hirst's newer body of work clearly expanding on the iconic motif of the butterfly. Beholding it as a symbol of beauty and inherent fragility of life, it exhibits new heights of complexity, refined detail and radiance, through which Hirst references the church and religion, fitting neatly into his larger exploration of posterity in art.
    With the present lot, Hirst seems to exhibit a more contemplative, inward looking approach than usual. He is looking to poetry and religion for inspiration rather than the usual death, medicine, and shock that has made the artist who he is. With its double-barreled title, Damien Hirst's ‘Superstition' series from which this work is born out of was based on a poem by English poet Philip Larkin's ‘High Windows'. As a result, the painting's first title is extracted from the poem and the second one is a direct reference to religious iconography. In addition Hirst uses a classical gothic-style high-arched structure as a surface through which the work portrays an ornate, fractal geometry and perfect, mathematical symmetry that is visually awe-inspiring.
    With his religion-borrowed format and multicoloured butterfly wing surface, Importance of Elsewhere – The Kingdom of Heaven is a seminal work, where the sheen of the gloss and the shimmer of the butterflies resembles the stain-glass windows of churches. The work speaks to Hirst's love of colour and the obsession with the dichotomy of love and death, beauty and vulgarity, timelessness and mortality.
    "The butterfly's attractiveness derives not only from colours and symmetry: deeper motives contribute to it. We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or if they flew straight and briskly like bees, or if they stung, or above all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis: the latter assumes in our eyes the value of a badly decoded message, a symbol, a sign." (Primo Levi)

  • 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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The Importance of Elsewhere-The Kingdom of Heaven

Butterflies and Household paint on canvas.
292 x 243.9 cm. (115 x 96 in).
Signed twice, titled and dated ‘Damien Hirst “The Kingdom of Heaven” 2006’ on the reverse.

£1,500,000 - 2,500,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £1,609,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2008, 5pm