Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'I guess my desire was that I always wanted to be a painter, but then it didn’t come naturally to me, what came naturally to me was sculpture. The spot paintings are like sculptures really, because they’re like sculptures of paintings.' —Damien Hirst 

    An early and pristine example of one of Damien Hirst’s most important and instantly recognisable series, N - (9-Acridinyl) Maleimide is a wonderful presentation of the artist’s abiding interest in colour and its organisation. Executed in 1992, the same year that Hirst exhibited alongside Rachel Whiteread and Sarah Lucas in collector Charles Saatchi’s epoch-defining exhibition Young British Artists I, the present work also highlights the key conceptual continuities between this series of Pharmaceutical Paintings and Hirst’s oeuvre more broadly.


    A piece of British art history, the present work was created at a pivotal moment in the young Hirst’s career. Executed the first year that Hirst had been nominated for the Turner Prize (which he would claim three years later) and just before he represented Britain at the 1993 Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia N - (9-Acridinyl) Maleimide testifies to the vision and ambition of an artist beginning to establish himself as a driving force of the British art scene in the early 1990s. 


    Spots in Context

    'The grid-like structure creates the beginning of a system. On each painting no two colours are the same. This ends the system.' —Damien Hirst  

    The Pharmaceutical Paintings can be seen as absolutely foundational to Hirst’s oeuvre, the first work painted directly onto the Surrey Docks warehouse wall in the final phase of the now legendary Freeze exhibition curated by Hirst when he was an undergraduate student at Goldsmiths in 1988. Deeply revealing to the conceptual currents that run across Hirst’s entire oeuvre, the artist described this seminal show in terms not so far removed from the Pharmaceutical Paintings themselves explaining: ‘I found I could work with already organised elements. And I suppose in Freeze the artists were kind of already organised elements in themselves and I arranged them.’i


    As with his slightly earlier Medicine Cabinets, Hirst found that setting himself certain limitations – the organising framework of the grid or glass-fronted cabinet; the size and colour of his forms; the number of spots or pills included in each work – generated an infinite variability.


    Touching on a legacy of 20th century avant-garde practice that employed chance and randomisation as formative compositional tools, Hirst introduced an element of chance into his practice. In the case of the suite of twelve medicine cabinets that Hirst presented for his degree show in 1988, he assigned tracks from the 1977 Sex Pistols album as titles. Stumbling across the catalogue of chemical company Sigma- Aldrich’s ‘Biochemicals for Research and Diagnostic Reagents’, Hirst expanded this principle by assigning titles for works at random, treating the catalogue as a vast and random title-generator perfectly attuned to his vision for the possibly infinite variety the Pharmaceutical Paintings. 


    Installation view: ‘Medicine Cabinets’, L & M Arts, New York, 2010. Photographed by Tom Powel Imaging Inc., courtesy of L & M Arts © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012
    Installation view: ‘Medicine Cabinets’, L & M Arts, New York, 2010. Photographed by Tom Powel Imaging Inc., courtesy of L & M Arts © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

     Colour and Chaos 

    ‘I was always a colourist […] So that’s where the Spot paintings come from – to create that structure, to do those colours, and do nothing. I suddenly got what I wanted. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of colour.’
    — Damien Hirst 

    Arranged with 9 spots along the vertical axis and 8 along the horizontal, the present work presents the grid-like arrangement of multichromatic spots rendered in uniquely mixed hues of household paint. With no two spots of the same colour on any one canvas, the results have proved to be infinitely variable. As Hirst quickly discovered with one of the first spot painting’s inclusion of a black dot, the colours possessed a remarkable mutability when placed next to one another, some appearing to recede while others jumped forwards in a manner that references Bridget Riley’s foundational Op Art experiments of the 1960s. 

    Meticulously spaced so that the gap between each spot is identical to the spot itself, the pattern of N - (9-Acridinyl) Maleimide achieves the remarkable effect of refusing to resolve. As Michael Bracewell describes, drawn to ‘the warmer- coloured spots, the gaze then encounters seeming sudden diagonals, verticals or broken lines of semi-coherence; look again, and even these fleeting spooks of visual sense turn out to be illusions.’ii Yet, despite this energetic activity, the work achieves an incredible compositional balance and harmony.

    'Mathematically, with the spot paintings, I probably discovered the most fundamentally important thing in any kind of art. Which is the harmony of where colour can exist on its own, interacting with other colours in a perfect format.' —Damien Hirst

    Changing Your Spots 


    Despite having presented the definitive catalogue of his spot paintings in 2013, accompanied by a global exhibition spanning eleven locations with Gagosian Gallery worldwide held the previous year, Hirst has still appeared not to have exhausted the versatility of the deliberately rigid framework established by this formula. Reinvented in the universal visual language of emojis, Hirst has most recently presented a variation on the Spot paintings for rapper Drake’s new album, appropriately announced via an Instagram post in August this year. Like the original perfectly circular and regulated spots presented in N - (9-Acridinyl) Maleimide, the emojis are utterly identical in size and shape, presenting a limited option of chromatic variations. Playfully referencing the rounded shape of the original series, Hirst selected the emoji of a pregnant woman, repeated through twelve different variations arranged in a grid formation and set against a white background.


    Drake's Instagram post revealing the Damien Hirst-designed cover art for his new album, Certified Lover Boy.


    Hirst’s seemingly endless ability to provoke, and to make his work relevant in the contemporary moment has certainly driven his unwavering status as a leading figure of contemporary British art, and in discussions over the role of at in the 21st century. In this important early work many of these threads come together, a striking example of the manner in which the young artist’s work ‘stabilised quickly and insisted on stylistic cohesion virtually from the beginning to where it is today.’iii


    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, his series of medicine cabinets, and his celebrated Spot Paintings.


    •    N-(9-Acridinyl) Maleimide is a pristine early example of one of Hirst’s most immediately identifiable and iconic series, belonging to the earliest and most prolific sub-series of Pharmaceutical paintings.  


    •    Since 1998 when the artist curated his seminal Freeze exhibition including work from his Goldsmith’s peer group, Hirst has continued to exhibit internationally, with major shows at Tate Modern in London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Examples of his work can be found in major institutions including the Tate, London; the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

    i Damien Hirst, quoted in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 124. 
    ii Michael Bracewell, ‘Art Without the Angst’, in Jason Beard and Millicent Willner, ed., Damien Hirst, The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, London, 2013, n.p. 
    iii Robert Pincus-Witten, ‘Damien Hirst: Spots and Al’, in Jason Beard and Millicent Willner, ed., Damien Hirst, The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, London, 2013, n.p. 

    • Provenance

      Jay Jopling Fine Art, London
      Christie's, New York, 16 November 1999, lot 57
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, London, 27 June 2001, lot 9
      White Cube, London
      Christie's, New York, 14 May 2008, lot 342
      Private Collection, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Literature

      Robert Violette, ed., I Want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 2005, p. 234 (illustrated)
      Millicent Wilner and Jason Beard, eds., The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 - 2011, New York, 2013, p. 826 (illustrated, p. 45)

    • 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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Property of an Important European Collector


N-(9-Acridinyl) Maleimide

household gloss on canvas
172.6 x 152.6 cm (67 7/8 x 60 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1992.

Full Cataloguing

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £736,400

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021