Damien Steven Hirst (born 7 June 1965) is an English artist, entrepreneur and art collector. He is the most prominent member of the group known as the Young British Artists (or YBAs), who dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s. He is internationally renowned, and is reportedly Britain's richest living artist, with his wealth valued at 215m GBP in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List. During the 1990s his career was closely linked with the collector Charles Saatchi, but increasing frictions came to a head in 2003 and the relationship ended.
Death is a central theme in Hirst's works. He became famous for a series of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved-sometimes having been dissected-in formaldehyde. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine (clear display case) became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide. He has also made "spin paintings," created on a spinning circular surface, and "spot paintings", which are rows of randomly-coloured circles created by his assistants.
In September 2008, he took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby's by auction and by-passing his long-standing galleries. The auction exceeded all predictions, raising 111 million GBP ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst's own record with 10.3 million GBP for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde.
In several instances since 1999 the sources for certain of Hirst's works have been challenged and contested as plagiarised, both in written articles by journalists and artists, and, in one instance, through legal proceedings which led to an out-of-court settlement.
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol and grew up in Leeds. His father was reportedly a motor mechanic, who left the family when Hirst was 12. His mother, Mary Brennan, of Irish Catholic descent, worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau, and has stated that she lost control of her son when he was young. He was arrested on two occasions for shoplifting. However, Hirst sees her as someone who would not tolerate rebellion: she cut up his bondage trousers and heated one of his Sex Pistols vinyl records on the cooker to turn it into a fruit bowl (or a plant pot). He says, "If she didn't like how I was dressed, she would quickly take me away from the bus stop." She did, though, encourage his liking for drawing, which was his only successful educational subject.
His art teacher "pleaded" for Hirst to be allowed to enter the sixth form, where he took two A-levels, achieving an "E" grade in art. He was refused admission to Leeds College of Art and Design, when he first applied, but attended the college after a subsequent successful application.
He went to an exhibition of work by Francis Davison, staged by Julian Spalding at the Hayward Gallery in 1983. Davison created abstract collages from torn and cut coloured paper, which Hirst said, "blew me away", and which he modelled his own work on for the next two years.
He worked for two years on London building sites, then studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London (1986-89), although again he was refused a place the first time he applied. In 2007, Hirst was quoted as saying of An Oak Tree by Goldsmiths' senior tutor, Michael Craig-Martin: "That piece is, I think, the greatest piece of conceptual sculpture. I still can't get it out of my head." While a student, Hirst had a placement at a mortuary, an experience that influenced his later themes and materials.
In July 1988 in his second year at Goldsmiths College, Hirst was the main organiser of an independent student exhibition, Freeze, in a disused London Port Authority administrative block in London's Docklands. He gained sponsorship from the London Docklands Development Corporation. The show was visited by Charles Saatchi, Norman Rosenthal and Nicholas Serota, thanks to the influence of his Goldsmiths' lecturer Michael Craig-Martin. Hirst's own contribution to the show consisted of a cluster of cardboard boxes painted with household paint. After graduating, Hirst was included in New Contemporaries show and in a group show at Kettles Yard Gallery in Cambridge. Seeking a gallery dealer, he first approached Karsten Schubert, but was turned down.
In 1990 Hirst, along with his friend Carl Freedman and Billee Sellman, curated two enterprising "warehouse" shows, Modern Medicine and Gambler, in a Bermondsey former Peek Freans biscuit factory they designated "Building One". Saatchi arrived at the second show in a green Rolls Royce and, according to Freedman, stood open-mouthed with astonishment in front of (and then bought) Hirst's first major "animal" installation, A Thousand Years, consisting of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding off a rotting cow's head. They also staged Michael Landy's Market. At this time, Hirst said, "I can't wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say 'f off'. But after a while you can get away with things."
In 1991 his first solo exhibition, organised by Tamara Chodzko - Dial, In and Out of Love, was held in an unused shop on Woodstock Street in central London; he also had solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery in Paris. The Serpentine Gallery presented the first survey of the new generation of artists with the exhibition Broken English, in part curated by Hirst. At this time Hirst met the up-and-coming art dealer, Jay Jopling, who then represented him.
In 1991, Charles Saatchi had offered to fund whatever artwork Hirst wanted to make, and the result was showcased in 1992 in the first Young British Artists exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in North London. Hirst's work was titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and was a shark in formaldehyde in a vitrine, and sold for 50,000 GBP. The shark had been caught by a commissioned fisherman in Australia and had cost 6,000 GBP. It became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide. The exhibition also included A Thousand Years. As a result of the show, Hirst was nominated for that year's Turner Prize, but it was awarded to Grenville Davey.
Hirst's first major international presentation was in the Venice Biennale in 1993 with the work, Mother and Child Divided, a cow and a calf cut into sections and exhibited in a series of separate vitrines. He curated the show Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away in 1994 at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where he exhibited Away from the Flock (a sheep in a tank of formaldehyde). On 9 May, Mark Bridger, a 35 year old artist from Oxford, walked in to the gallery and poured black ink into the tank, and retitled the work Black Sheep. He was subsequently prosecuted, at Hirst's wish, and was given two years' probation. The sculpture was restored at a cost of 1,000 GBP.
In 1995, Hirst won the Turner Prize. New York public health officials banned Two Fucking and Two Watching featuring a rotting cow and bull, because of fears of "vomiting among the visitors". There were solo shows in Seoul, London and Salzburg. He directed the video for the song "Country House" for the band Blur. No Sense of Absolute Corruption, his first solo show in the Gagosian Gallery in New York was staged the following year. In London the short film, Hanging Around, was shown-written and directed by Hirst and starring Eddie Izzard. In 1997 the Sensation exhibition opened at the Royal Academy in London. A Thousand Years and other works by Hirst were included, but the main controversy occurred over other artists' works. It was nevertheless seen as the formal acceptance of the YBAs into the establishment.
In 1997, his autobiography and art book, I Want To Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, was published. With Alex James of the band Blur and actor Keith Allen, he formed the band Fat Les, achieving a number 2 hit with a raucous football-themed song Vindaloo, followed up by Jerusalem with the London Gay Men's Chorus. Hirst also painted a simple colour pattern for the Beagle 2 probe. This pattern was to be used to calibrate the probe's cameras after it had landed on Mars. He turned down the British Council's invitation to be Britain's representative at the 1999 Venice Biennale because "it didn't feel right". He sued British Airways claiming a breach of copyright over an advert design with coloured spots for its low budget airline, Go.
In 2000, Hirst's sculpture Hymn (which Saatchi had bought for a reported 1m GBP) was given pole position at the show Ant Noises (an anagram of "sensation") in the Saatchi Gallery. Hirst was then sued himself for breach of copyright over this sculpture. Hirst sold three more copies of his sculpture for similar amounts to the first. In September 2000, in New York, Larry Gagosian held the Hirst show, Damien Hirst: Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings. 100,000 people visited the show in 12 weeks and all the work was sold.
On 10 September 2002, on the eve of the first anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Hirst said in an interview with BBC News Online:
"The thing about 9/11 is that it's kind of like an artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually... You've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America. So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing."
The next week, following public outrage at his remarks, he issued a statement through his company, Science Ltd:
"I apologise unreservedly for any upset I have caused, particularly to the families of the victims of the events on that terrible day."
Hirst gave up smoking and drinking in 2002, although the short-term result was that his wife Maia "had to move out because I was so horrible." He had met Joe Strummer (former lead singer of The Clash) at Glastonbury in 1995, becoming good friends and going on annual family holidays with him. Just before Christmas 2002, Strummer died of a heart attack. This had a profound effect on Hirst, who said, "It was the first time I felt mortal." He subsequently devoted a lot of time to founding a charity, Strummerville, to help young musicians.
In April 2003, the Saatchi Gallery opened at new premises in County Hall, London, with a show that included a Hirst retrospective. This brought a developing strain in his relationship with Saatchi to a head (one source of contention had been who was most responsible for boosting their mutual profile). Hirst disassociated himself from the retrospective to the extent of not including it in his CV. He was angry that a Mini car that he had decorated for charity with his trademark spots was being exhibited as a serious artwork. The show also scuppered a prospective Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern. He said Saatchi was "childish" and "I'm not Charles Saatchi's barrel-organ monkey ... He only recognises art with his wallet ... he believes he can affect art values with buying power, and he still believes he can do it."
In September 2003 he had an exhibition Romance in the Age of Uncertainty at Jay Jopling's White Cube gallery in London, which made him a reported 11m GBP, bringing his wealth to over 35m GBP. It was reported that a sculpture, Charity, had been sold for 1.5m GBP to a Korean, Kim Chang-Il, who intended to exhibit it in his department store's gallery in Seoul. The 22-foot (6.7m), 6-ton sculpture was based on the 1960s Spastic Society's model, which is of a girl in leg irons holding a collecting box. In Hirst's version the collecting box is shown broken open and is empty.
Charity was exhibited in the centre of Hoxton Square, in front of the White Cube. Inside the gallery downstairs were 12 vitrines representing Jesus's disciples, each case containing mostly gruesome, often blood-stained, items relevant to the particular disciple. At the end was an empty vitrine, representing Christ. Upstairs were four small glass cases, each containing a cow's head stuck with scissors and knives. It has been described as an "extraordinarily spiritual experience" in the tradition of Catholic imagery. At this time Hirst bought back 12 works from Saatchi (a third of Saatchi's holdings of Hirst's early works), via Jay Jopling, for a total fee reported to exceed 8 million GBP. Hirst had sold these pieces to Saatchi in the early 1990s for a considerably smaller sum, his first installations costing less than 10,000 GBP.
On 24 May 2004, a fire in the Momart storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection, including 17 of Hirst's, although the sculpture Charity survived, as it was outside in the builder's yard. That July, Hirst said of Saatchi, "I respect Charles. There's not really a feud. If I see him, we speak, but we were never really drinking buddies."
Hirst designed a cover for the Band Aid 20 charity single featuring the "Grim Reaper" in late 2004. The image showed an African child perched on his knee. This was not to the liking of the record company executives and was replaced by reindeer in the snow standing next to a child.
In December 2004, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living was sold by Saatchi to American collector Steve Cohen, for $12 million, in a deal negotiated by Hirst's New York agent, Gagosian. Cohen, a Greenwich hedge fund manager, then donated the work to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Sir Nicholas Serota had wanted to acquire it for the Tate Gallery, and Hugo Swire, Shadow Minister for the Arts, tabled a question to ask if the government would ensure it stayed in the country. Current export regulations do not apply to living artists.
Hirst exhibited 30 paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in March 2005. These had taken 3 1/2 years to complete. They were closely based on photos, mostly by assistants (who were rotated between paintings) but with a final finish by Hirst.
In February 2006, he opened a major show in Mexico, at the Hilario Galguera Gallery, called The Death of God, Towards a Better Understanding of Life without God aboard The Ship of Fools. The exhibition attracted considerable media coverage as Hirst's first show in Latin America. In June that year, he exhibited alongside the work of Francis Bacon (Triptychs) at the Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street, London. Included in the exhibition was the seminal vitrine, A Thousand Years (1990), and four triptychs: paintings, medicine cabinets and a new formaldehyde work entitled The Tranquility of Solitude (For George Dyer), influenced by Francis Bacon.
A Thousand Years, one of Hirst's most provocative and engaging works, contains an actual life cycle. Maggots hatch inside a white minimal box, turn into flies, then feed on a bloody, severed cow's head on the floor of a claustrophobic glass vitrine. Above, hatched flies buzz around in the closed space. Many meet a violent end in an insect-o-cutor; others survive to continue the cycle. A Thousand Years was admired by Francis Bacon, who in a letter to a friend a month before he died, wrote about the experience of seeing the work at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Margarita Coppack notes that "It is as if Bacon, a painter with no direct heir in that medium, was handing the baton on to a new generation." Hirst has openly acknowledged his debt to Bacon, absorbing the painter's visceral images and obsessions early on and giving them concrete existence in sculptural form with works like A Thousand Years.
Hirst gained the auction record for the most expensive work of art by a living artist-his Lullaby Spring in June 2007, when a 3 metre-wide steel cabinet with 6,136 pills sold for 19.2 million dollars to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar.
In June 2007, Beyond Belief, an exhibition of Hirst's new work, opened at the White Cube gallery in London. The centre-piece, a Memento Mori titled For the Love of God, was a human skull recreated in platinum and adorned with 8,601 diamonds weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats. Approximately 15,000,000 GBP worth of diamonds were used. It was modelled on an 18th century skull, but the only surviving human part of the original is the teeth. The asking price for For the Love of God was ($100 million or 75 million euros). It didn't sell outright, and on 30 August 2008 was sold to a consortium that included Hirst himself and his gallery White Cube.
In November 2008, the skull was exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam next to an exhibition of paintings from the museum collection selected by Hirst. Wim Pijbes, the museum director, said of the exhibition, "It boosts our image. Of course, we do the Old Masters but we are not a 'yesterday institution'. It's for now. And Damien Hirst shows this in a very strong way."
Beautiful Inside My Head Forever was a two day auction of Hirst's new work at Sotheby's, London, taking place on 15 and 16 September 2008.
It was unusual as he bypassed galleries and sold directly to the public. Writing in The Independent, Cahal Milmo said that the idea of the auction was conceived by Hirst's business advisor of 13 years, Frank Dunphy, who had to overcome Hirst's initial reluctance about the idea.
The sale raised ($198 million) for 218 items. The auction exceeded expectations, and was ten times higher than the existing Sotheby's record for a single artist sale, occurring as the financial markets plunged. The Sunday Times said that Hirst's business colleagues had "propped up" the sale prices, making purchases or bids which totalled over half of the 70.5 million GBP spent on the first sale day: Harry Blain of the Haunch of Venison gallery said that bids were entered on behalf of clients wishing to acquire the work.
In December 2008, Hirst contacted the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) demanding action be taken over works containing images of his skull sculpture For the Love of God made by a 16 year old graffiti artist, Cartrain, and sold on the internet gallery 100artworks.com. On the advice of his gallery, Cartrain handed over the artworks to DACS and forfeited the 200 GBP he had made; he said, "I met Christian Zimmermann [from DACS] who told me Hirst personally ordered action on the matter." In June 2009, copyright lawyer Paul Tackaberry compared the two images and said, "This is fairly non-contentious legally. Ask yourself, what portion of the original-and not just the quantity but also the quality-appears in the new work? If a 'substantial portion' of the 'original' appears in the new work, then that's all you need for copyright infringement... Quantitatively about 80% of the skull is in the second image."
Cartrain walked into Tate Britain in July 2009 and removed a pack of "very rare Faber Castell 1990 Mongol 482 series pencils" from Damien Hirst's pharmacy installation. Cartrain had then made a "fake" police appeal poster stating that the pencils had been "stolen" and that if anyone had any information they should call the police on the phone number advertised. Cartrain was arrested for 500,000 GBP worth of theft.
On October 2009, Hirst revealed that he had been painting with his own hand in a style influenced by Francis Bacon for several years. According to Sarah Thornton, "For his latest violation of art-world etiquette, he's enacting the fantasy of being a lonely romantic painter." No Love Lost, his show of these paintings at the Wallace Collection in London received "one of the most unanimously negative responses to any exhibition in living memory". Tom Lubbock of The Independent called Hirst's work derivative, weak and boring: "Hirst, as a painter, is at about the level of a not-very-promising, first-year art student." Rachel Campbell-Johnston of The Times said it was "shockingly bad".
Although Hirst participated physically in the making of early works, he has always needed assistants (Carl Freedman helped with the first vitrines), and now the volume of work produced necessitates a "factory" setup, akin to Andy Warhol's or a Renaissance studio. This has led to questions about authenticity, as was highlighted in 1997, when a spin painting that Hirst said was a "forgery" appeared at sale, although he had previously said that he often had nothing to do with the creation of these pieces.
Hirst said that he only painted five spot paintings himself because, "I couldn't be fucking arsed doing it"; he described his efforts as "shite"-"They're shit compared to ... the best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel. She's brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel." He also describes another painting assistant who was leaving and asked for one of the paintings. Hirst told her to, "'make one of your own.' And she said, 'No, I want one of yours.' But the only difference, between one painted by her and one of mine, is the money.' By February 1999, two assistants had painted 300 spot paintings. Hirst sees the real creative act as being the conception, not the execution, and that, as the progenitor of the idea, he is therefore the artist:
"Art goes on in your head," he says. "If you said something interesting, that might be a title for a work of art and I'd write it down. Art comes from everywhere. It's your response to your surroundings. There are on-going ideas I've been working out for years, like how to make a rainbow in a gallery. I've always got a massive list of titles, of ideas for shows, and of works without titles."
Hirst is also known to volunteer repair work on his projects after a client has made a purchase. For example, this service was offered in the case of the suspended shark purchased by Steven A. Cohen.
In 1999, chef Marco Pierre White said Hirst's Butterflies On Mars had plagiarised his own work, Rising Sun, which he then put on display in the restaurant Quo Vadis in place of the Hirst work.
In 2000, Hirst was sued for breach of copyright over his sculpture, Hymn, which was a 20-foot (6.1 m), six ton, enlargement of his son Connor's 14" Young Scientist Anatomy Set, designed by Norman Emms, 10,000 of which are sold a year by Hull-based toy manufacturer Humbrol for 14.99 GBP each. Hirst paid an undisclosed sum to two charities, Children Nationwide and the Toy Trust in an out-of-court settlement, as well as a "good will payment" to Emms. The charitable donation was less than Emms had hoped for. Hirst also agreed to restrictions on further reproductions of his sculpture.
In 2006, a graphic artist and former research associate at the Royal College of Art, Robert Dixon, author of 'Mathographics', alleged that Hirst's print Valium had "unmistakable similarities" to one of his own designs. Hirst's manager contested this by explaining the origin of Hirst's piece was from a book The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry (1991)-not realising this was one place where Dixon's design had been published.
In 2007, artist John LeKay said he was a friend of Damien Hirst between 1992 and 1994 and had given him a "marked-up duplicate copy" of a Carolina Biological Supply Company catalogue, adding "You have no idea how much he got from this catalogue. The Cow Divided is on page 647 - it is a model of a cow divided down the centre, like his piece." This refers to Hirst's work Mother and Child, Divided-a cow and calf cut in half and placed in formaldehyde. LeKay also claimed Hirst had copied the idea of For the Love of God from LeKay's crystal skulls made in 1993, and said, "I would like Damien to acknowledge that 'John really did inspire the skull and influenced my work a lot.' Copyright lawyer Paul Tackaberry reviewed images of LeKay's and Hirst's work and saw no basis for copyright infringement claims in a legal sense.
In 2010, in The Jackdaw, Charles Thomson said there were 15 cases where Hirst had plagiarised other work. Examples cited were Joseph Cornell who had created a similar piece to Hirst's Pharmacy in 1943; Lori Precious who had made stained-glass window effects from butterfly wings from 1994, a number of years before Hirst; and John LeKay who did a crucified sheep in 1987. Thomson said that Hirst's spin paintings and installation of a ball on a jet of air were not original, since similar pieces had been made in the 1960s. A spokesperson for Hirst said the article was "poor journalism" and that Hirst would be making a "comprehensive" rebuttal of the claims.
In November 2006 Hirst was curator of In the darkest hour there may be light, shown at the Serpentine Gallery, London, the first public exhibition of (a small part of) his own collection. Now known as the 'murderme collection', this significant accumulation of works spans several generations of international artists, from well-known figures such as Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin, Richard Prince and Andy Warhol, to artists in earlier stages of their careers such as his former assistant Rachel Howard, David Choe, Nicholas Lumb, Tom Ormond and Dan Baldwin.
"As a human being, as you go through life, you just do collect. It was that sort of entropic collecting that I found myself interested in, just amassing stuff while you're alive." - Damien Hirst, 2006.
Hirst is currently restoring the Grade I listed Toddington Manor, near Cheltenham, where he intends to eventually house the complete collection.
In 2007, Hirst donated the 1991 sculptures "The Acquired Inability to Escape" and "Life Without You" and the 2002 work "Who is Afraid of the Dark?" (fly painting), and an exhibition copy from 2007 of "Mother and Child Divided" to the Tate Museum from his own personal collection of works.
Hirst had a short-lived partnership with chef Marco Pierre White in the restaurant "Quo Vadis". His best-known restaurant involvement was Pharmacy, located in Notting Hill, London, which closed in September 2003. Although one of the owners, Hirst had only leased his art work to the restaurant, so he was able to retrieve and sell it at a Sotheby's auction, earning over 11 million GBP. Some of the work had been adapted, e.g. by signing it prior to the auction.
Hirst opened and currently helps to run a seafood restaurant, 11 The Quay, in the seaside town of Ilfracombe in the UK.
Hirst is a supporter of the indigenous rights organisation, Survival International. On September 2008, Hirst donated the work, Beautiful Love Survival, at the Sotheby's London sale, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, to raise money for this organisation. Later, he also contributed his writing to the book, We Are One: A Celebration of Tribal Peoples, released in October 2009, in support of Survival. The book explores the existence and threats of indigenous cultures around the world.
Hirst lives with his Californian girlfriend, Maia Norman, by whom he has three sons: Connor Ojala, (born 1995, Kensington and Chelsea, London), Cassius Atticus (born 2000, North Devon) and Cyrus Joe (born 2005, Westminster, London). Since the birth of Connor, he has spent most of his time at his remote farmhouse, a 300 year old former inn, near Combe Martin, Devon. Hirst and Norman are not married, although Hirst refers to Norman as his "common-law wife". The artist owns a large compound in Baja, Mexico which serves as a part-time residence and art studio. The studio employs several artists that carry out Hirst's projects.
Hirst has admitted serious drug and alcohol problems during a ten year period from the early 1990s: "I started taking cocaine and drink... I turned into a babbling fucking wreck." During this time he was renowned for his wild behaviour and eccentric acts, including for example, putting a cigarette in the end of his penis in front of journalists. He frequented the high profile Groucho Club in Soho, London, and was banned on occasion for his behaviour.
Hirst is reputed to be the richest living artist to date. In 2009, the annually collated chart of the wealthiest individuals in Britain and Ireland, Sunday Times Rich List, placed Hirst at joint number 238 with a net worth of 235m GBP. Hirst's wealth was valued at 215m GBP in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List, hence Damien Hirst is Britain's wealthiest artist.
In September 2008, he took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby's by auction and by-passing his long-standing galleries. The auction exceeded all predictions, raising ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst's own record with 10.3 million GBP for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde.
In several instances since 1999, the sources for certain of Hirst's works have been challenged and contested, both in written articles by journalists and artists, and, in one instance, through legal proceedings which led to an out-of-court settlement.
Hirst has been praised in recognition of his celebrity and the way this has galvanised interest in the arts, raising the profile of British art and helping to (re)create the image of "Cool Britannia." In the mid-1990s, the then-Heritage Secretary, Virginia Bottomley recognised him as "a pioneer of the British art movement", and even sheep farmers were pleased he had raised increased interest in British lamb. Janet Street-Porter praised his originality, which had brought art to new audiences and was the "art-world equivalent of the Oasis concerts at Earl's Court".
Andres Serrano is also known for shocking work and understands that contemporary fame does not necessarily equate to lasting fame, but backs Hirst: "Damien is very clever ... First you get the attention ... Whether or not it will stand the test of time, I don't know, but I think it will." Sir Nicholas Serota commented, "Damien is something of a showman ... It is very difficult to be an artist when there is huge public and media attention. Because Damien Hirst has been built up as a very important figure, there are plenty of sceptics ready to put the knife in."
Tracey Emin said: "There is no comparison between him and me; he developed a whole new way of making art and he's clearly in a league of his own. It would be like making comparisons with Warhol." Despite Hirst's insults to him, Saatchi remains a staunch supporter, labelling Hirst a genius and stating:
General art books dated 2105 will be as brutal about editing the late 20th century as they are about almost all other centuries. Every artist other than Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Damien Hirst will be a footnote.
There has been equally vehement opposition to Hirst's work. Norman Tebbit, commenting on the Sensation exhibition, wrote "Have they gone stark raving mad? The works of the 'artist' are lumps of dead animals. There are thousands of young artists who didn't get a look in, presumably because their work was too attractive to sane people. Modern art experts never learn." The view of the tabloid press was summed up by a Daily Mail headline: "For 1,000 years art has been one of our great civilising forces. Today, pickled sheep and soiled beds threaten to make barbarians of us all." The Evening Standard art critic, Brian Sewell, said simply, "I don't think of it as art ... It is no more interesting than a stuffed pike over a pub door. Indeed there may well be more art in a stuffed pike than a dead sheep."
The Stuckist art group was founded in 1999 with a specific anti-Britart agenda by Charles Thomson and Billy Childish; Hirst is one of their main targets. They wrote (referring to a Channel 4 programme on Hirst):
The fact that Hirst's work does mirror society is not its strength but its weakness - and the reason it is guaranteed to decline artistically (and financially) as current social modes become outmoded. What Hirst has insightfully observed of his spin-paintings in Life and Death and Damien Hirst is the only comment that needs to be made of his entire oeuvre: "They're bright and they're zany - but there's fuck all there at the end of the day."
In 2003, under the title A Dead Shark Isn't Art, the Stuckism International Gallery exhibited a shark which had first been put on public display two years before Hirst's by Eddie Saunders in his Shoreditch shop, JD Electrical Supplies. Thomson asked, "If Hirst's shark is recognised as great art, then how come Eddie's, which was on exhibition for two years beforehand, isn't? Do we perhaps have here an undiscovered artist of genius, who got there first, or is it that a dead shark isn't art at all?" The Stuckists suggested that Hirst may have got the idea for his work from Saunders' shop display.
In 2008 leading art critic Robert Hughes said Hirst was responsible for the decline in contemporary art. Hughes said Hirst's work was "tacky" and "absurd" in a 2008 TV documentary called The Mona Lisa Curse made by Hughes for Channel 4 in Britain. Hughes said it was "a little miracle" that the value of 5 million GBP was put on Hirst's Virgin Mother (a 35 foot bronze statue), which was made by someone "with so little facility". Hughes called Hirst's shark in formaldehyde "the world's most over-rated marine organism" and attacked the artist for "functioning like a commercial brand", making the case that Hirst and his work proved that financial value was now the only meaning that remained for art.