When Did Damien Hirst Jump the Preserved Shark?


When British artist Damien Hirst was first starting out he once 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.”

Today, with a staff of around 80 artists to help him churn out new work and a spot at the top of the Power 100 List, we’d say he’s there — and has been for some time now. But could a recent interview with the Telegraph in which Hirst admits that his work is overpriced signal a shift in thinking for the superstar? Has Damien Hirst gone too far for even Damien Hirst?

After the jump, Flavorwire tries to pinpoint the moment that took Hirst from an animal-slicing artist to an out of control force of nature. Feel free to chime in with your own take in the comments.

1990 – Charles Saatchi shows up at Hirst’s warehouse show in a biscuit factory and buys A Thousand Years, the rotting cow’s head.

1991 – Hirst has his first solo exhibition at the Woodstock Street Gallery. Entitled In and Out of Love, he fills the space with hundreds of tropical butterflies that hatch from canvases that hung the walls. Hirst meets Jay Jopling.

1992 – Hirst exhibits his now infamous Saatchi-commissioned tiger shark — The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living — as part of the Young British Artists show at the Saatchi Gallery. The price for the finished work: £25,000.

1993 – Hirst makes his international debut at the Venice Biennale with Mother and Child Divided, a bisected cow and calf.

1995 – Hirst wins the £20,000 Turner prize for Away From The Flock, a sheep preserved in formaldehyde. Meanwhile New York officials ban his work Two Fucking and Two Watching — which involves a dead cow and bull copulating — because they are afraid it will make crowds vomit.

2000 – Saatchi buys Hirst’s 20-foot tall Hymn sculpture — a bronze, super-sized rendering of the human anatomy — for a reported £1m. He sells three copies of the original for similar amounts.

2001 – Hirst pisses off America. “The thing about 9/11 is that it’s kind of like an artwork in its own right… Of course, it’s visually stunning and 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.”

This is where we think he jumps the shark.

2003 – Hirst and Saatchi start to argue about who is a bigger deal. Hirst’s religion-inspired exhibition at the White Cube Gallery, Romance in the Age of Uncertainty, brings in a reported £11m. He buys back 12 older works from Saatchi for more than £8 million, which is way more than he sold them for.

2004 – Saatchi sells the pickled shark to American hedge-funder Steven Cohen for a reported £6.5 million. He donates it to the MoMA.

2007 – Hirst creates For the Love of God, a piece using £15m worth of diamonds and a skull; the asking price is £50m. That year Lullaby Spring, one of four pill-filled cabinets, sets a record for the most expensive work of art auctioned by a living artist when it goes for $19.2m. Christie’s sell another in the series for $7.4m.

2008 – Hirst cuts out Jopling and goes straight to Sotheby’s with 223 new works — including the £10m Golden Calf — and grosses more than $200 million. For the Love of God, which Hirst now values at £100m, will be sold in the same way if it fails to find a buyer within eight years.