Damien Hirst is among the most famous of the ?Young British Artists? who emerged in London in the late 1980s. Hirst makes paintings, drawings, and sculpture, but he has never restricted himself to traditional formats. During his career, Hirst has also made commercial music videos, opened a London restaurant named "The Pharmacy," and produced popular songs.
His paintings and sculptures revolve around the relationship between life, sickness, and death. The use of medical references and apparatus represents one of the most significant and recurring motifs of Hirst?s work. He uses medicinal imagery as a means of expressing the fragility and ambiguity that lies at the core of human existence.
One of his most infamous early works is MOTHER AND CHILD, DIVIDED (1995) that presents a cow and a calf sliced in half and preserved in four tanks of formaldehyde. The sculpture is installed so that the viewer can walk between the tanks to see the animal's internal organs. A related work presents a dead shark placed in a glass case, suspended in a formaldehyde solution. Presented as if in a natural history museum, it becomes a contradictory metaphor for aggression and vitality, but also for death and conservation.
Hirst's most recent sculpture, THE VIRGIN MOTHER, is installed in the center courtyard of the Lever House. With this work, Hirst continues his interest in maternity and the human body seen earlier in MOTHER AND CHILD, by presenting a 35 foot tall pregnant woman in cast and painted bronze. The left half of her body has been stripped of skin, exposing a cranial head, the muscular and circulatory system of her breast and arm, and an inverted fetus in her swollen womb.
The design for THE VIRGIN MOTHER derives from a toy model of the human figure (with removable skeleton and organs) that was intended as an educational tool for children. In addition, the posture the feet and head of Hirst's figure are borrowed from Edgar Degas' famous sculpture of a ballerina, LITTLE DANCER, AGE FOURTEEN (1920-21). Like Hirst's proclivity toward sensationalism, Degas' figure also caused controversy because of its radical use of actual a tuille skirt and a horsehair coiffure tied with a ribbon.
Hirst also created a male figure with exposed organs, titled HYMN (1999). This sculpture presents only the torso of a male from above the thighs, at a height of 20 feet. The male body contains numerous organs (heart, lungs, liver, colon, muscle, blood vessels) cast in bronze and painted in bright red, pink, blue, and yellow. The religious references contained in the titles--HYMM and VIRGIN--suggest that Hirst is bestowing some type of divinity upon the couple. He regards biology, reproduction, and medicine as a powerful belief systems that are emblematic of mankind?s fundamental hunger for life in the face of our inevitable mortality.
Richard D. Marshall, Curator
Works in the Exhibition:
THE VIRGIN MOTHER, 2005
402.8 x 181.9 x 81.3 inches (33.75 x 15 x 6.8 feet)
Lever House Art Collection, New York