(United Kingdom, 1965)

Grey Periodic Table Door, 1997-1998
from The Pharmacy restaurant, London
acrylic paint on wooden door with metal handle,
207.9 x 74.9 x 4.4 cm, Courtesy private collection, London
© Damien Hirst & Other Criteria

This object is a door which had been part of the entrance of the restaurant “The Pharmacy” which Damien Hirst co-owned in the late 1990s in London. The restaurant became a place that attracted artists and VIPs in London until it had to close in 2003. The complete interior, including bar stools, Martini glasses, egg cups, salt and pepper shakers and rolls of wallpaper was sold at auction at Sotheby’s. Every single object was sold for a multiple sum of the estimated auction price. All 168 lots from “The Pharmacy” totalled £ 11,132,180, which exceeded the pre-sale estimate of 3.5 to 4.9 million £ by far. Many of these items were not unique works of art, but industrially produced commodities. What transformed them into objects of desire was the fact the they had been part of a project associated with the brand name of Damien Hirst – his popularity in the art world labelled them into unique must-have objects justifying the exorbitant sums of money paid for them. Hirst himself commented: “After the success of the Pharmacy auction, I always felt I would like to do another auction. It’s a very democratic way to sell art and it feels like a natural evolution for contemporary art. Although there is risk involved, I embrace the challenge of selling my work in this way. I never want to stop working with my galleries. This is different. The world’s changing, ultimately I need to see where this road leads.” On 15 and 16 September 2008 Hirst again decided to abandon the traditional method of selling through art dealers and galleries and had a second auction organized at Sotheby’s, called Beautiful Inside my Head Forever. The sale again smashed all top estimates bringing a record total of £.70 million.

A Lovely Day, 1997-1998
Butterflies and household gloss on canvas, 91.5 x 152.5 cm
Courtesy private collection
photo © Damien Hirst. All rights reserved. DACS 2008

The canvas of Damien Hirst is one of a series of objects with butterflies mounted on a glossy surface that have been manufactured by a team of his assistants. This type of art production can be traced back to the factory of Andy Warhol and to the workshops of Renaissance artists such as Sandro Botticelli. Andy Warhol used icons from the pop culture such as Marilyn Monroe, Campell soup cans or Dollar bills. Damien Hirst in turn touches the transient, tapping into the vast reservoir of symbols back to the traditions of art history. The artist uses metaphors with a recognizable meaning: a dead shark preserved in formaldehyde, a sterile pharmacy environment or a diamond incrusted skull. In the same sense the mounted butterflies may be understood as a motif of vanitas reminding us of metamorphosis and death. Hirst is both addressing existential questions and capturing public attention by means of shock. His extraordinary market success seems to rest on his ability to understand the desire of his audience for metaphors and to respond to this with artistic products that carry a decipherable symbolic meaning. On the other hand his success is based ingenious self-marketing, an elaborated branding strategy and quality-controlled manufacturing, revealing a precise understanding of the market mechanisms which the artist is actively controlling and manipulating.


Luchezar Boyadjiev (BUL)
Marco Brambilla (I/USA)
Marc Bijl (NL)
Fabio Cifariello Ciardi (I)
Claude Closky (F)
Denis Darzacq (F)
Eva Grubinger (A)
Pablo Helguera (MX)
Damien Hirst (UK)
Bethan Huws (GB)
Christian Jankowski (D)
Atelier van Lieshout (NL)
Michael Landy (UK)
Thomas Locher (D)
Aernout Mik (NL)
Antoni Muntadas (E)
Takashi Murakami (J)
Josh On (CAN)
Dan Perjovschi (RUM)
Cesare Pietroiusti (I)
Wilfredo Prieto (CUB)

Palazzo Strozzi