Damien Hirst

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
© 2018 Damien Hirst

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Damien Hirst has defined and drawn attention to a generation of young British artists. From the controversy of Separated from the flock (a lamb preserved in a glass tank, which was vandalised when included in the exhibition Hirst curated for the Serpentine Gallery in 1994, 'Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away'), to the political storm surrounding the arrival of 'Sensation' in Brooklyn this year, his work has redefined international expectations of British art.

Hirst, who grew up in Leeds, is also often credited with helping to refocus the London art world from West End Galleries to the industrial spaces of the city. This shift followed the success of 'Freeze', a 1988 Goldsmiths' College show he organised, which took place in a docklands warehouse.

The unavoidable part of Hirst's work is its unblinking confrontation with death, mortality and the brevity of life, whether it is in the form of a 14-foot long tiger shark in a tank of formaldehyde, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) or the beauty of a disused shop full of butterfly pupae, hatching from white canvasses, feeding on sugar syrup, mating, laying eggs and dying: In and Out of Love (1991). But there is another strategy where, through his titles and black humor, he collapses the formal clarity of the works and its apparently melancholy message, and makes the viewer reconsider the ambivalent creativity that is at work. 'I want to set up situations that make people try to find meaning. I don't think my interpretations are important on a large scale', he says. Though he has pointed out that in With Dead Head (1991) a photograph showing the youthful Hirst in a mortuary, smiling beside the head of a corpse, his expression betrays fear or nervousness rather than delight.

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