Among the most influential living artists, Damien Hirst has received both praise and contempt for his thoughtful and often provocative paintings, sculpture, and installations. As an art student at the University of London’s Goldsmiths College, Hirst organized “Freeze” in 1988, an exhibition which launched his career and that of other artists who came to be known as the “YBAs” (young British artists), a group distinguished for confrontational, subversive, and ironic art.
Hirst’s notoriety was exceptional; his celebrity was firmly established in 1991 when he included The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living—an immense shark suspended in formaldehyde in a glass box—in a exhibition of the YBAs’ art at Charles Saatchi’s London gallery. This motif has become Hirst’s signature and an icon of contemporary art.
In 1995 Hirst won the prestigious Turner Prize, a choice that was neither unexpected nor unanimously appreciated. Critic Martin Maloney thought Hirst “circumnavigated the primary pitfall of much British art—its guilt-ridden distrust of the visual—with superbly finessed aesthetic objects,” while Norman Tebbit’s reaction in the Sun read, “Have they gone stark raving mad? The works of the ‘artist’ are lumps of dead animals.”
Hirst’s ambitious and complex work has been credited with reinvigorating the British art scene and drawing a wide public into discussions about art. His materials are sometimes repellent, but his themes— the human condition, mortality, and beauty— are timeless. Hirst has characterized himself as “romantic” and “kind of old-fashioned…In terms of ideas.”
This presentation of Hirst’s work, dating from 1994 to 2004, has been made possible through generous loans from private collectors and from The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica, California.