Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips

    Featuring five bronze female torsos of varying dimensions set on a basalt base, Five Antique Torsos initially presents itself as a piece of classical statuary, a beautifully preserved relic from another world, another time, intruding into ours like a distant echo. However, upon closer inspection, these ‘relics’ of idealised female beauty are not from such a distant past after all and may be in fact more familiar to us than we might at first assume. Characterised by slim, tapered waists, accentuated hips, and high breasts, the clean lines and smooth silhouette of the Five Antique Torsos – although stylistically close to the vernacular of ancient Egyptian statuary – in fact captures the changing silhouette of the iconic Barbie doll, charting her evolution across five decades from her earliest appearance in the late 1950s through to the 1990s. An icon of contemporary pop culture, the subtle but significant changes to the size of her waist and roundness of her hips charts the shifting attitudes towards idealised beauty standards across the decades, emphasising the extent to which these cultural ideals are played out on and through the female body. From left to right, the torsos recreate the changing Barbie silhouette from the 1970s, 1950s, 1990s, 1960s, and 1980s, all almost as impossible to attain as the iconic high arch of her feet, which make an important appearance in feminist filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s recent blockbuster movie.


     For the Barrie let’s use caption: ‘Barbie Dolls over the Decades’


    A History of Collecting


    Playing very self-consciously with ideas of truth, authenticity, and narrative, the work belongs to provocative British artist Damien Hirst’s elaborate and complex mediation on the nature of art, authenticity, and the history of collecting presented in the staggering 2017 exhibition Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Hugely ambitious in its scope, the exhibition told the fabricated story of a legendary ancient shipwreck, recently discovered of the coast of east Africa and excavated by Hirst and his team and representing one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of recent times. A story of monumental hubris, ‘The Unbelievable’ was said to be transporting the collection of freed slave Cif Amotan II to a dedicated temple to the sun before it met its untimely end, its precious cargo hidden below the watery surface for over two millennia, gradually becoming encrusted with corals and crustaceans.


    Hydra and Kali discovered by four divers, photograph by Christoph Gerigk. Image/Artwork: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS / Artimage 2023


    An avid collector himself, throughout his career Hirst has demonstrated a deep interest in the aesthetics of display and the agendas informing collecting practices. Hirst’s cabinets speak directly to a history of museum display, specifically the forms and functions of the Wunderkammer or ‘curiosity cabinet’ whose function was to impose order onto a chaotic world through careful categorisation and as such were ‘central to conceptions of knowledge and how its results were to be displayed […] so that they inhabited the same physical and conceptual space.’i A decade in the making and taking over two of Venice’s most prestigious contemporary art galleries, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable developed these themes on an epic scale, bringing together nearly 200 objects and carefully staged photographic material that played very deliberately with anxieties around authenticity, documentation, and reproduction.


    Making an oblique reference to the 19th century mania for collecting, conserving, and reproducing classical artefacts that generated impressive collections such as those boasted by the Victoria & Albert and British Museums, multiples were cast so that ‘Each work exists as three different versions: a coral-coated version from the depths, an allegedly restored version and a modern museum reproduction.’ii Collapsing mythology, history, and fiction the objects themselves offer a promiscuous blending of ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman references alongside more contemporary pop culture icons including Mickey Mouse, Barbie, and a sculptural portrait of Hirst himself as the ancient collector whose name – of course – is an anagram of ‘I am fiction’. That the Barbie doll is mass-produced and globally circulated, while rare historical examples are still highly sought after by collectors surely piqued Hirst’s interest here.


    Five Antique Torsos in Surrealist Exhibition. Image: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2023


    Suggesting that the ancients favoured modes of seriality over our own contemporary fetishisation of the original or unique, Hirst creates a narrative that places his own practice in direct dialogue with these objects, confusing distinctions between past and present, originality and the reproduction, authenticity and forgery. Further complicating these questions, the exhibition guide wove threads of this fabricated narrative with real historical information, explaining that: ‘In the early twentieth century, copies of the nudes circulated amongst the Surrealists and are shown here at the ‘International Surrealist Exhibition' (London, 1936)'. Their popularity derived primarily from the sculptor’s reductive treatment of the female body, and the torso’s resemblance to mannequins. As eroticised, pre-existing objects, the sculptures proved ideal receptacles for the Surrealist interest in the self-conscious nature of art production.’ Including a doctored photograph of one of the casts alongside the version of the present work included in the exhibition, Hirst creates a fabricated lineage for the sculpture, inserting it into one of the most important art historical events of the early 20th century.


    Just as Surrealism asked us to move beyond observable reality in a more nuanced interrogation of the nature of perception itself, Hirst asks us to confront the ‘beliefs, ideas, conditions and institutions which shape the common basis of human experience’. Confronting too the brevity of human life, and our attempts to guarantee a degree of permanence in the objects we collect around us, Five Antique Torsos represents what critic Jonathan Jones has described as the very best of Hirst, restoring ‘the arrogant, exciting, hilarious, mind-boggling imagination that made him such a thrilling artist in the 1990s.iii


     Damien Hirst discusses Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable


    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.

    • Ambitious and audacious, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable belongs to a colourful history of Hirst’s ambitious exhibitions, including his 1992 site-specific installation Pharmacy and the inclusion of live butterflies in his first solo exhibition In and Out of Love.



    i Brian Dillion, ‘Ugly Feelings’, Damien Hirst, London, 2012, p.23.

    ii Joe Lloyd, ‘Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’, Studio International, 11 August, 2017, online.

    iii Jonathan Jones, 'Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable review – a Titanic Return’, The Guardian, 6 April, 2017, online.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Venice, Punta della Dogana, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Damien Hirst, 9 April – 3 December 2017, pp. 47, 320 (another example exhibited and illustrated)

    • 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

Property from a Private American Collection


Five Antique Torsos

incised with the artist’s signature, stamped with the foundry and Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable stamps, inscribed, numbered and dated ‘TM6-2 Damien Hirst 2/3 MMXI’ on the reverse of the central torso
bronze and Basalt, aluminium and steel plinth
left to right:
42.4 x 17.7 x 12.6 cm (16 3/4 x 6 7/8 x 4 7/8 in.)
46.3 x 19 x 14.8 cm (18 1/4 x 7 1/2 x 5 7/8 in.)
56.6 x 19 x 13.5 cm (22 1/4 x 7 1/2 x 5 3/8 in.)
44.4 x 19 x 14.4 cm (17 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 5 5/8 in.)
45.4 x 16.6 x 13.2 cm (17 7/8 x 6 1/2 x 5 1/4 in.)
plinth 75.2 x 133.4 x 43.5 cm (29 5/8 x 52 1/2 x 17 1/8 in.)
overall 131.8 x 133.4 x 43.5 cm (51 7/8 x 52 1/2 x 17 1/8 in.)

Executed in 2011, this work is number 2 from an edition of 3 plus 2 artist’s proofs.

Full Cataloguing

£300,000 - 500,000 ‡♠

Sold for £317,500

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 13 October 2023