Hirst, Damien Steven

Hirst, Damien Steven, 1965–, British artist-provacateur, b. Bristol. While at Goldsmiths College, London (grad. 1988), he organized the exhibition Freeze, whose participants, led by Hirst, became known as the Young British Artists. Hirst's controversial works often explore the line between life and death; he became famous for encasing a large preserved shark in a formaldehyde-filled glass case (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991). During the 1990s, he put other animals—some whole, some sawed into sections—into similar suspended animation. Mortality is also the theme of such 1991 works as A Thousand Years, which incorporates a dead cow's head and features the birth, life, and death of flies, and In and Out of Love, which includes living butterflies. Despite widespread critical disapproval, he won the 1995 Turner Prize. Later works include paintings created by spinning machines, vitrines of cigarette butts, and pieces that include pharmaceutical products and surgical instruments. In the 2000s he turned to photorealist paintings of grim, often bloody or medical subjects. His most extravagant momento mori, For the Love of God (2007), is a platinum cast of a human skull set with more than 8,500 diamonds. In 2008 Hirst flouted art-world conventions, and netted more than $200 million, by holding a two-day auction of his works. “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” (2017), his most complex work, consists of nearly 200 pieces that he conjures as having been recovered from a sunken ancient ship. The sculptures, which range from small objects to a monumental statue c. 60 ft (18 m) tall, are formed of varied materials and represent mythological and real personages and animals from many ancient cultures, though some are clearly marked by ironic modern touches. Many appear encrusted or eroded by the sea and sea life; some were actually submerged to add patina.

See his I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now (1997, repr. 2005); G. Bum, On the Way to Work (interviews, 2002); C. King, dir., Thoughts Work Life (video, 2012).

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