Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "I think I’ve got an obsession with death, but I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid. You can’t have one without the other."
    —Damien Hirst
    Shimmering with a jewel-like iridescence, Omnipotence is a mesmeric example of British artist Damien Hirst’s Kaleidoscope series. Composed of the wings of butterfly specimens geometrically arranged in a radial fashion around a central loci, marked here by a set of brilliant, azure wings, the work offers an appropriately kaleidoscopic vison, the dazzling fractured shards of lapis, citrine, topaz, and opal shades appearing to splinter and multiply before our eyes. Possessing remarkable vitality, chromatic variety, and radiance, the present work brings together key conceptual threads of Hirst’s provocative practice: his fascination with colour and systems of structuring it; collecting practices and the aesthetics of display; mortality and the transience of beauty.


    Detail of the present work

    Kaleidoscopic Vision 

    Although Hirst first formalised the Kaleidoscope series in 2001 with It’s a Wonderful World, his fascination with butterflies and lepidoptery can be traced to the earliest stages of his career. Following the legendary 1988 Freeze exhibition that Hirst curated while still a student at Goldsmiths and the year before the phrase ‘Young British Artists’ was first coined by collector Charles Saatchi in his 1992 group exhibition of the same name, Hirst’s first solo exhibition used butterflies to sensational effect. Spread over two floors of a disused commercial space, In and Out of Love solidified Hirst’s reputation as the precocious enfant terrible of the YBAs, the ground floor transformed into a humid hot house, the walls hung with pupae covered canvases from which hundreds of butterflies hatched over the duration of the exhibition, flying around the exhibition space before the eventually died.


    Damien Hirst, In and Out of Love (White Paintings & Live Butterflies), 1991, - Installed at Tate Modern, 2012. Image: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd, Artwork: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022

    An elegiac mediation on mortality and the fragility of life and of beauty, in the figure of the butterfly, Hirst found a potent vehicle through which to unpack some of the key themes that have gone on to define his career, and they remain a central motif for the artist today. While this early installation and Hirst’s later Butterfly Monochrome paintings highlighted the gap between a fantasised ideal of the butterfly and our confrontation with its reality - exposing the ways in which ‘the symbol exists apart from the real thing’ - these later works move closer to an almost religious expression of adoration and perfection.i

    Adopting the appearance of delicate stained glass, in its luminosity and radial arrangement, Omnipotence takes on the appearance of the kind of Gothic Rose window discovered in the most spectacular Cathedrals of Europe – a point directly referenced in the titles of some of the works from the series. Although not directly referencing ecclesiastical sites or architectural elements, the title of the present work of course also carries with it a strong sense of doctrinal wisdom, the omnipotence of the deity taken as a foundation stone for many different belief systems. Absorbing and meditative, the devotional aspect of the Mandala works was further emphasised by Hirst in the Psalm subseries, a limited group of butterfly works which Hirst started in 2008 - the same year as the current work’s execution.


    Stained Glass window inside Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Image: incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo

    Deeply metaphysical, Hirst’s work has long been interested in systems of belief, and here we can see the butterfly being invoked to speak to the more religious questions of the soul and the resurrection, adopted as the ‘trace element of the spiritual in a fallen world and associated with the hand of the divine in the creation of material existence.’ii Beyond religion, Hirst’s oeuvre also probes the ways in which medicine and science conform  to a similar structure based upon devotion and faith, his – borrowing from Victorian models of classification and display - operating like reliquaries or shrines.

    Hirst’s interest in the intersections of art and science are well documented and long-standing. As Jonathan Jones suggested on the occasion of Hirst’s White Cube presentation of Mandala paintings, this inquiry was there at the artist’s conceptual beginnings, having always ‘claimed the same privilege for art that science has taken for granted since the 17th century – to pin the natural world to a table, to dissect and examine it.’iii Lending itself naturally to the serial approach practiced by the artist and drawing conceptual connections with both Hirst’s Natural History series and his cabinet works, Victorian lepidoptery especially emphasised visual display over a strictly taxonomic organisation, a tradition well-suited to Hirst’s own aesthetic approach. Doing away with the human imposition of order, Hirst’s Kaleidoscope works instead offer a geometric and compound vision, one that, perhaps, invokes the eye of the butterfly itself.


    Collector’s Digest

    • Coming to prominence in the late 1980s as part of the group identified by collector and gallerist Charles Saatchi as a generation of ‘Young British Artists’, Damien Hirst is best known for his boundary-pushing sculptures of animals submerged in formaldehyde, and his sustained investigation of seriality, repetition, death and belief.

    • Works from the Kaleidoscope series were first exhibited as part of Hirst’s 2003 White Cube show Romance in the Age of Uncertainty. In 2007, Hirst presented a major series of the paintings in his solo exhibition Superstition with Gagosian Gallery in London and Beverly Hills.

    • Also executed in 2008, one of the largest Kaleidoscope paintings, Enlightenment, measures over 7 x 17 feet and includes over 2,700 butterflies. 

    i Damien Hirst, quoted in Damien Hirst, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London, 2005, p. 118. 
    ii Rod Mengham, ‘Butterfly Affect’, in Hirst: Madalas, (exh. cat.), London, 2019, p. 4.
    iii Jonathan Jones, ‘Damien Hirst flutters around the cosmos on butterfly wings’, The Guardian, 19 September 2019, online

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • 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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signed, stamped with the artist’s stamp, titled and dated ‘“Omnipotence” Damien Hirst 2008’ on the backing board; signed and stamped with the artist’s stamp ‘D. Hirst’ on the stretcher
butterflies and household gloss on canvas
diameter 152.4 cm (60 in.)
Executed in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

£350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for £796,900

Contact Specialist

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

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022