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

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  • 'Any great art work or object gives more than it takes. The amazing thing about diamonds is that they take light and throw it back at you, although they seem to throw more light out than they take in […] But they have a dark side as well.' —Brian DillionConceptually connected to the meticulously organised medicine cabinets that date back to Damien Hirst’s Goldsmiths degree show in 1989, the large-scale diamond cabinet Precious Moments draws together key themes of beauty, mortality, belief, and value that have preoccupied the artist throughout his career. Combining compositional elegance with a commitment to seriality informed by Minimalism, rows of exactly spaced diamonds appear to float end to end within the stainless-steel cabinet, carefully arranged across glass shelves and separated from us by a sliding glass door.


    Detail of the present work
    Detail of the present work

    Throughout his career, and especially across his varied cabinets, Hirst has explored the systems of belief erected to organise human experience: faith in religion, in medicine, and in consumerism – all brought into kaleidoscopic view with Precious Moments. Overtly invoking the sick or ailing body, Hirst’s pharmaceuticals are themselves subject to an analogous decay and degradation. Hard-edged, clean-cut and exquisitely incorruptible, diamonds, by contrast remain untouched by the passing of time. Forcing a meditation on our own mortality, Hirst’s poignantly ironic title underscores this fleeting ephemerality, and of our desire to possess something eternal in the face of our own certain death.


    Cabinets of Curiosity


    Drawing fascinating visual parity between the alluring window displays of jeweller’s shops, altarpieces, and the 19th century mania for collecting and categorising specimens of all description in ‘Curiosity Cabinets’, Precious Moments makes a blunt point about the functioning of consumerism as a system of knowledge in the modern age.


    Operating as proto-museums, the earliest Curiosity Cabinets or ‘wunderkammers’ attempted to impose rational order onto a chaotic world through collection and classification, and as such were ‘central to conceptions of knowledge and how its results were to be displayed […] so that they inhabited the same physical space and conceptual space’.i A potent symbol of man’s hubristic pursuit of knowledge, they speak not only to a desire to collect and categorise, but to an Enlightenment faith in progress and the pursuit of rationality.


    Domenico Remps, Cabinet of Curiosities, 1690s, Opificio delle pietre dure, Florence
    Domenico Remps, Cabinet of Curiosities, 1690s, Opificio delle pietre dure, Florence

    While some of Hirst’s cabinets, such as Forms Without Life tackle the contradictions of this legacy more directly, Precious Moments takes a more side-ways glance at Enlightenment rationality, playing on its tendency to the taxonomic to highlight the rise of the commodity as a new system of knowledge and belief.


    Death and Diamonds

    'The things you obsess over are the things you make art about. I obsess about death and mortality, especially my own.' —Damien HirstIn its dazzling allure, Precious Moments also draws on the aesthetics of display associated with certain  religious practices. Like the earliest curiosity cabinets which presented visual proofs of the rational pursuit of knowledge as a means of combating the persistence of magic and superstition in our collective imagination, altarpieces and reliquaries operated according to the same visual logic.


    Ornately decorated containers designed specially to hold the remains of supposed saints, reliquary shrines functioned as the visual proof of Divine will and a universe structured according to it. Enshrined in its pristine glass cabinet, Precious Moments adopts this set of visual codes, protecting a very different kind of sacred object and presenting itself as an altarpiece for the age of commodity capitalism.


    Reliquary Shrine, ca. 1325 – 50, attributed to Jean de Touyl, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York  © 2021. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence
    Reliquary Shrine, ca. 1325 – 50, attributed to Jean de Touyl, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York © 2021. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

    In the context of Medieval visual culture, the Reliquary also functioned, not only as tangible proof of the existence of God and the performance of miracles, but as a Memento mori – a visual reminder of the inevitability of death in the midst of life. Like the spectacular medieval altarpiece or Reliquary, Precious Moments highlights the role of display in the maintenance of certain belief systems, and of the inevitability of death. As such, it draws itself into a direct dialogue with one of Damien Hirst’s most iconic works, For the Love of God.


    Executed in 2007 the year before the first diamond cabinet was made, For the Love of God is a diamond-encrusted platinum cast of an 18th century human skull which Brian Dillon has aptly described as ‘Nothing more or less than an alchemical object: a death’s-head sublimed (as alchemists traditionally put it) out of base organic matter and into the stuff of wealth and glamour, certainly, but also the stuff of an inhuman immortality.’ii


    Like this definitive work, Precious Moments represents Hirst’s ongoing integration of questions of mortality, permanence and value through a complex body of work where the ‘model of the museum vitrine and its precursor, the cabinet of curiosities; the aesthetics of commercial display and advertising; scientific and medical imagery; religious motifs; all are merged’ in the artist’s visual syntax.iii A summation of Hirst’s artistic vision, in its oblique contemplation of death Precious Moments is a glorious celebration of life, death being, in the artist’s own words, ‘what gives life its beauty.’iv


    Collector’s Digest


    •    An artist who defines the YBA generation, Hirst rose to prominence in the late 1980s with the legendary Freeze exhibition that he mounted with fellow Goldsmiths students in 1988, shortly followed by collector Charles Saatchi’s epoch-defining Young British Artists and Sensation exhibitions in the 1990s.


    •    Hist has been the subject of major international exhibitions at Tate Modern in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His works are collected in major institutions globally.


    •    A testament to the continued interest in this aspect of Hirst’s oeuvre, Gagosian mounted an exhibition of cabinets just this summer in Paris. 

    i Brian Dillion, ‘Ugly Feelings’, Damien Hirst, London, 2012, p.23. 
    ii Brian Dillion, ‘Ugly Feelings’ (2012 Tate, p., 23
    iii Ann Gallagher, into, Tate cat, 2012, p. 18
    iv Damien Hirst, ‘Nicholas Serota interviews with Damien Hirst’, 14 July 2011 (Tate 2012 DH)

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Paris (acquired directly from the artist)
      Thence by descent to 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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Property of an Important European Collector

Ο ◆25

Precious Moments

signed, titled and dated 'Precious Moments Damien Hirst 2011-2012' on the reverse
glass, stainless steel, steel, aluminium, nickel and cubic zirconia
150.3 x 228.3 cm (59 1/8 x 89 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2011-2012.

Full Cataloguing

£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £990,500

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