Lot 88: Damien Hirst (B. 1965)

Christie's

May 9, 2006
New York, NY, US

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Description: Benzhydrol
household gloss on canvas
47 1/4 x 70 7/8 in. (120 x 180 cm.)
Painted in 1996.
Artist or Maker: Damien Hirst (B. 1965)
Provenance: White Cube, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Notes: Damien Hirst's Spot paintings form a constant in the artist's production to date. Widely considered to be his first mature works because it was these painting that he chose to exhibit at the groundbreaking Freeze show that he curated in 1988, Hirst continues to produce them periodically. In the Spot paintings, Hirst creates works that attempt to systematize and isolate the precise nature of this contradiction for all to see. "I started them as an endless series like a sculptural idea of a painter (myself). A scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies' scientific approach to life.In the spot paintings the grid-like structure creates the beginning of a system. On each painting no two colours are the same. This ends the system; it's a simple system" (Damien Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always forever now, Booth-Clibbon, 1997, p. 246).

As this is Hirst, one cannot help but speculate on the role of pharmaceuticals in the production of this projected happiness. Indeed, Hirst seems to declare as much in the quotation above: No matter how he is actually feeling, he can take some colorful pills inside of him, get a buzz, and see the world anew. Hirst's Spot paintings are all produced under the more general title of The Pharmaceutical Paintings and each carries the title of a different drug or chemical used in the pharmaceutical production. Benzhydrol, for example, is used in the manufacture of anti-histamines like Benadryl. (It is also used in various herbicides.)

Taking this to mind, one realizes that there is a tragic contradiction at the heart of the Spot paintings. Like Hirst, one is instantly happy looking at these colorful spots. But if you linger and look at Benzhydrol long enough, that happiness dissolves into an empty whiteness of death and meaningless. If one looks deeper and deeper into the atomic structure of matter, one arrives at the quarks inside of the nucleus only to realize that there is nothing but empty space there. Hirst's Spot paintings are essentially about this emptiness. Beyond life and death, Benzhydrol is about what isn't.
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