Currently showing at The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco through September 30, 2010, is an exhibition of works by British artist Damien Hirst. This exhibition is a break-through for the Museum, which is working in tandem with the New National Museum of Monaco, as its first display of contemporary art. True to name, The Oceanographic Museum showcases exhibits relating to marine life. While Hirst is being shown as a contemporary artist, many of his works do feature a type of marine life; his suspended sharks, for one, resemble exhibits that typically would be in such a museum. Monaco’s temperate climate and its booming summertime tourist industry should attract many high-income visitors to the show, entitled Cornucopia.
Cornucopia is a collection of 60 works of art that highlights Hirst’s contributions over the past 15 years. Hirst is primarily known for his unique approach to death and mortality in his artwork. The exhibit contains such early pieces as Away From the Flock, Divided (1995), a sheep cut in half and suspended in two separate tanks of formaldehyde. One of his later works, After the Flood (2008), carries the same idea. A dove is suspended in a formaldehyde-filled tank, its beak and face raised upward, its wings outstretched. Biblically appropriate, it clutches an olive sprig in its mouth.
Hirst became famous for his collection of these types of dead, preserved animals. One of his first, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1992) is a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. That shark is currently on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, but two more recent ones are on exhibit in Monaco. One is The Immortal. It is a Great White, suspended with its tail up, mouth open, mid-bite. The second is a hammerhead, entitled Fear of Flying. These two shark exhibits on display in Monaco summarize Hirst’s opinion about death’s presence in art. These animals cross a thin line between life and death; they are lifeless, but their bodies remain preserved. As Hirst noted, “[the animals in the tank] first came from a fear of everything in life being so fragile.” (Quoted in Button, p. 114)
While the exhibit places a lot of focus on these “glass tank” works, it also features sculptures and paintings by Hirst. A few focus on butterflies and insects. The Psalms (2008) is one of Hirst’s butterfly gloss pieces that features a round collage of butterfly wings. The Forgiveness (2008) is a steel cabinet that stretches for yards and displays thousands of butterflies. Larger sculptures in the collection include The Virgin Mother (2005) and Hymn (1999).
Born in 1965, Hirst is based in London. In 1995, he won The Turner Prize, a British art award that is bestowed annually on a young artist. His art has been featured internationally, and he is recognized as perhaps the world’s wealthiest living artist. He is known for his unique means of self-promotion, such as his straight-to-the-market auction in 2008. Similarly, Hirst takes a unique path with this exhibit. It not only marks the Museum’s first time to display contemporary art, but it also reflects Hirst’s ability to showcase himself through a different means. Monaco is rife with high income potential collectors, and Hirst’s collaboration with a large institution to promote his art directly to a potentially new pool of collectors is not incongruent with the roadshow to India and the Hamptons conducted by Sotheby’s to promote his work to new types of collectors in 2008. Hirst has furthermore in the past leased out galleries himself, sans dealer, to showcase his work as he did in 2009 at the Wallace Collection in the UK where he showcased his “blue paintings.” This exhibition in Monaco has Hirst similarly expanding the way in which artists show, promote and sell their work. Just as Hirst circumvented the dealers by going directly to auction via Sotheby’s in 2008 and showing directly without a gallery at the Wallace Collection, here he is achieving a full Museum show of his work through innovative means and, again, not within the usual confines of the standard procedure for the art market.
- O. Loving
Cornucopia by Damien Hirst [Oceanographic Institute]
Museum of Monaco Launches Centenary Celebraiton [Artdaily]