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  • Provenance

    White Cube, London; Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland; Private collection, New Zealand

  • Exhibited

    Auckland, Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne Street Opening Exhibition, 26 - 31 May 2008

  • Catalogue Essay

    The preoccupation with death, art, science and religion that runs through Damien Hirst’s oeuvre has at its foundation his struggle to answer fundamental questions about the meaning of life. Sacred XIV, one of several variations by Hirst on the theme of the Sacred Heart, calls to mind the role of imagery and the veneration of relics in Christian tradition, and it attempts to provoke a dialogue about the failure of religion in the face of science to endure as a source of answers to questions about the human condition.
     
    Since the 11th century, the Sacred Heart has been a symbol of devotion to the heart of Christ and a reminder of the redemptive power of his suffering. The heart was usually depicted with the Crown of Thorns encircling it and a dagger piercing its flesh in a reference to Christ’s lance wound at the crucifixion. In Sacred XIV, the dagger plunges not into a relic from Christ’s Passion but into a pig’s heart chemically preserved in formaldehyde. The guard, grip and pommel of the knife form a cross over the bulbous heart, the ensemble suspended in a reliquary-like Perspex box. Sacred XIV’s passionless presentation of the raw materials that make up a religious symbol of redemptive pain provokes its audience to ask what, if anything, suffering means when considered with a modern, secular ethos. The work also addresses the changing concept of the sacred and asks us to consider how we ascribe meaning to objects, to images, and to life itself. Is there a place for the sacred in modern society? If so, what objects qualify as sacred, and how do they attain their significance?
     
    These questions are just some of many that must follow from Hirst’s indictment of religion as a viable means of ascribing meaning to human experience. With Sacred XIV’s sterile, clinical re-construction of a religious image, Hirst asserts science’s usurpation of religion’s role as a source of hope against illness, death and pain. That Hirst can’t help thinking that science is the new religion for many people’ (P. Stolper quoted in New Religion Damien Hirst, London 2006 p.5) is a vital component of his re-interpretation of the Sacred Heart, yet Sacred XIV is an ambivalent image: the porcine heart is both preserved and destroyed, perhaps a comment on the futility of even science to triumph over death.
     
    Hirst has planted himself firmly in the world of unbelief and his body of work stands in continuous, and sometimes belligerent, dialogue with religion. However, such a binary division into belief and unbelief can only be taken so far under Hirst’s own assertion that science has merely usurped the role formerly played by religion as the ‘path through the darkness’ (Ibid p.5). Science has surpassed religion in its ability to inspire hope and has therefore moved to the forefront as a means of answering the moral and existential dilemmas inherent to the human condition. For Hirst, science holds the answers to the mysteries of human experience, which are now solved through empirical means, not explained away by spiritual ones. However, he recognizes that in the worlds of both the faithful and the faithless, the questions are the same; only the sources of the answers are different. Against this existential backdrop, Hirst appropriates imagery with religious associations, such as the Sacred Heart, and presents it to us with a sang-froid that challenges the validity of its original meaning and ultimately the validity of religiosity itself. Hirst once posited that ‘as an artist, I’ve always thought the best you can do is set up triggers’ (Ibid p.14). He has aknowledged that both religion and science still serve as sources for answers, but works like Sacred XIV force his audience to consider which source it will accept, and to be able to defend its choice.
     Hirst’s manner of reconstructing the Sacred Heart symbol—or ‘cliché’ as he would call it (Ibid p.14)—provokes us to question the continuing relevance of the spiritual to a 21st-century audience. His exploration of this theme through works like Sacred XIV has allowed him to remake an image that has persisted for centuries with symbolic religious meaning in a way that reveals its emptiness. Sacred XIV throws Christian visual heritage under the scalpel and asks what role, if any, such an inheritance can play in a world in which hope for improving the human condition lies increasingly in science and less in the sublime.
     

  • 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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20

Sacred XIV

2005
Pig’s heart and dagger in Perspex box with 5% formaldehyde.
45.3 x 30.6 x 15.2 cm. (17 7/8 x 12 x 6 in).
Signed 'DHirst' and numbered of thirty five lower right on the reverse.

Estimate
£150,000 - 250,000 

Contemporary Art Day Sale

18 Oct 2008 2pm
London