2 June – 6 July 2007
Mason's Yard | Hoxton Square
Beyond Belief, a major solo exhibition of new work by Damien Hirst at both White Cube Hoxton Square and White Cube Mason’s Yard, was the most significant and ambitious exhibition of new work by the artist at that time.
In this exhibition, Hirst continued to explore the fundamental themes of human existence – life, death, truth, love, immortality and art itself. In two new series of paintings – the Birth Paintings and the Biopsy Paintings – Hirst confronts, as he put it, ‘the intense joy and deep-set anxiety we can all feel in hospitals, where we are surrounded by both creation and decay.' The Birth Paintings, which depict the birth of the artist’s youngest son Cyrus by Caesarean section in August 2005, are brutal, yet tender, images of the horror and beauty of childbirth.
The Biopsy Paintings, on the other hand, are based on biopsy images of thirty different forms of cancer and other terminal illnesses that the artist sourced from the Science Photo Library. In this series Hirst uses broken glass, scalpel blades and blood-like pools of paint in sumptuous, abstract swathes that repel and attract in equal measure. ‘I’ve always thought that art is a map of a person’s life, so it naturally changes as you change and get older’, Hirst said. ‘I suppose since I’ve become a father, I think even more about the end.’
Included were twelve new sculptures, including seven major formaldehyde works from the ongoing Natural History series. Death Explained, originally conceived as a drawing in 1991, presents a tiger shark divided longitudinally with each half of its body suspended in a separate tank of formaldehyde. The shark, which Hirst once summed up as ‘a thing to describe a feeling’, has been dissected, allowing the viewer to walk through the interior of the animal and perhaps to understand it more fully. But in the end, as Hirst has observed of death, ‘you are left with no answers, only questions.’
Several works address the complex relations between art, science and religion. Arguably more than any artist of his generation, Hirst is preoccupied by the Western tradition of Christian iconography. Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain savagely decants the Saint’s martyrdom into a single tank containing a black calf, its body pierced by dozens of arrows and cable-tied to a steel post. In God Alone Knows, a triptych featuring three flayed and crucified sheep in three tanks, Hirst re-presents the visceral brutality of Christ’s death, and yet there is an unexpectedly quiet beauty in the way the forlorn and tragic figures appear to float against their mirrored grounds, as if resurrected. Hirst reconstructs the final phase of the Nativity in The Adoration. A steel and glass vitrine is divided, one half of which is then sub-divided into three equal spaces that each contain a sheep, kneeling in supplication to a cast sterling-silver skeleton of an infant, housed in an incubation unit. Here, Hirst throws into sharp focus conflicting notions of belief, devotion and conformity.
For the Love of God is a life-size cast of a human skull in platinum, covered entirely by 8,601 VVS to flawless pavé-set diamonds, weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats. It is without precedent in the history of art. On one level, the work is a traditional ‘Memento Mori’, an object that addresses the transience of human existence. ‘The skull is out of this world, celestial almost’ writes the distinguished art historian Rudi Fuchs. ‘It proclaims victory over decay. At the same time’, Fuchs continues, ‘it represents death as something infinitely more relentless. Compared to the tearful sadness of a vanitas scene, the diamond skull is glory itself.'
Damien Hirst was born in 1965 in Bristol, UK. He lives and works in London and Devon. For the past two decades he has been widely acknowledged as the most important and influential artist of his generation.
The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, with texts by Will Self and Hans Ulrich Obrist as well as a book entitled For the Love of God: the Making of the Diamond Skull with an essay by Rudi Fuchs.