Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 4, 2016 | Phillips
  • Video

    Damien Hirst: Identity in a Box 

    'Figures in a Landscape' is one of Hirst's most ambitious vitrine pieces, sitting contextually alongside his historical formaldehyde pieces of the early 1990s. The work explores conceptions of identity and success, both real and imagined.

  • Provenance

    White Cube, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Presenting some of the most significant themes within his oeuvre, the present work engages us with the death of love in an age of plastic and cosmetic superficiality. Figures in a Landscape is a seminal example of Damien Hirst’s rare series of Vitrine works. This series sits alongside his Formaldehyde works and Pill Cabinets as the most intellectually rigorous and visually powerful iterations of Hirst's unique creative enterprise, encapsulating the provocative aesthetic and satirical tone that defined the British Avant-Garde in the 1990s.

    Perishing within their fragile polythene skins, Damien Hirst’s spurious rubbish bag ‘figures’ slump against the incarcerating steel and glass ‘landscape’, as if impassively being propped up by the very anxieties that divide and imprison them. The implied odour of the atrophic mess is masked by the artificial scent of cheap air fresheners that have been carelessly scattered over the incumbent figures, ruthlessly lampooning the narcissistic pursuits of contemporary culture by emulating our proclivity for simulated beauty that manifests itself through our use of cosmetics, social media, designer perfumes, etc.

    Hirst is wryly satirising a society entrapped by a dissonance between the ideals of beauty, the inadequacies of self-image, and our gradual demise as time passes. Yet, he also presents us with a society yearning for something that exceeds its natural means, of which one can both sympathise with and pity.

    Along the periphery of the divisive steel cage, two old pieces of furniture stand in sharp contrast to the amorphous forms below, rising above the squalid chaos like lingering figments of dignity in a world defined by languish. The single phrase 'I Love You' is scrawled in lipstick across the mirror like a lover’s affectionate message which implies intimacy, despite the pervading squalor. This phrase is important. It links the work to the emotionally charged neon slogans of the equally provocative Young British Artist, Tracey Emin and the pseudo-post-punk pop culture of the 1990s that empowered female expression and sexuality. However, it also associates the work with another Vitrine Hirst made the same year titled Contemplating a Self Portrait as a Pharmacist, in which a half finished canvas sits alongside a mirror containing the same phrase. This is a message the artist wrote to himself. It brings about a more direct analysis, one in which the phrase takes on the maniacal characteristics of a person in emotional decline. Under this reading the words lack their natural sincerity and become disconcerting, exposing a sense of anguish that requires abating, whereby a message of self-love becomes indistinguishable from a feeling of self-loathing.

    This is a brave and unabashedly confrontational work that continues down a path already laid by some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. The black, contorted sacks positioned within isolating formal structures evoke Francis Bacon’s tortured figures trapped within the tense dimensions of their own thoughts. The use of industrial materials and found objects – sacks, steel – recall the Arte Povera constructions of Jannis Kounellis. Here, beauty becomes manifest in unconventional ways. The raw power of the structures carries its message with a haunting yet quotidian grace, ultimately establishing a causal relationship between self-image and provocation.

  • 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


Figures in a Landscape

inscribed 'I love you' in lipstick on the mirror.
glass, steel, silicone rubber, wardrobe, lamp, clothes, air fresheners and packaging, rubbish bags and lipstick
overall 213.4 x 213.4 x 274.3 cm (84 x 84 x 107 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1998.

£250,000 - 350,000 ♠†

Sold for £305,000

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Henry Highley
Head of Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2016