Damien Hirst is a controversial artist renowned for eccentricity and extravagance, whose work continues to spark debate between art lovers worldwide, writes Lisa Lavelle.
English artist Damien Hirst represents many things. He represents a form of conceptual art that has raised fierce debate. He represents the modern culture of glorification of art; art lovers desperately bidding millions for their favourite pieces. In fact, he is officially the most expensive artist alive. Also, he represents the new direction taken by British contemporary art.
Hirst became famous for his pieces created from dead animals, including a dead sheep and a rotting cow’s head. The sheer bizarre grotesqueness of his works forces his viewers to think about mortality, and about artistic conventions when dealing with such subjects. However, many members of the art community have been less than impressed by these statements.
Hirst came to be a figurehead for modern ‘conceptual’ art when a group of art traditionalists
known as the ‘Stuckists’ chose to make an example of him. The group, which is located in Britain and fiercely opposed to modern conceptual or abstract art, challenged Hirst’s piece ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’.
Hirst became famous for his pieces created from dead animals, including a dead sheep and a rotting cow’s head
The piece in question is a dead shark preserved in formaldehyde in a tank. The Stuckists brought forward a man who had been displaying a dead shark in the window of his London shop for two years previous to Hirst’s unveiling of his piece. They argued that either this man was also a great, undiscovered talent or a dead shark was in fact not art.
Despite the objections of his critics, Hirst’s controversial career continued to flourish. He became the most expensive artist living in June 2007 when his piece, ‘Lullaby Spring’ was sold at Sotheby’s in London for £9.65 million (Over €12 million).
‘For the Love of God’, a platinum cast of a human skull encrusted in diamonds, with real teeth intact, sold for £50 million (over €63 million)
‘Lullaby Spring’ was a medicine cabinet with many brightly coloured pills arranged within. It was one in a series of four pieces exploring the Four Seasons.
However he outdid his own record this September when Hirst hosted an art show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby’s by auction. With £111 million (over €€139 million), breaking
the record for a one-artist auction.
Hirst’s infamous piece, ‘For the Love of God’, a platinum cast of a human skull encrusted in diamonds, with real teeth intact, sold for £50 million (over €€63 million). This skull was one of Hirst’s most controversial
works, probably because of its phenomenal price. The decadence of this work exemplifies the fact that people will pay more for an idea than for intrinsic value. If this work, extravagant price tag and all, had been by anyone other than Hirst, it would most likely have been reviled as tasteless and tawdry. But because
it has Hirst’s name attached, it is seen as a penetrating statement about the true value of art. This fact has been acknowledged and celebrated by Hirst’s supporters and has outraged his detractors.
These debates between the Stuckists and Hirst (or rather Hirst’s supporters, for he himself did not get too involved in the disputes surrounding his work) embody the debate that dominates modern art today. What is art? How far can we push the boundaries of self-expression? This is perhaps not a question that anyone can answer definitively, but as long as art continues to incite debate, artists like Damien Hirst will be impossible to ignore.