Damien Hirst (British, born 1965) Untitled aaaaaa 1992

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Lot 21AR
Damien Hirst
(British, born 1965)
Untitled aaaaaa

Sold for £ 314,500 (US$ 426,738) inc. premium
Damien Hirst (British, born 1965)
Untitled aaaaaa

signed, titled, dated 1992 and inscribed on the reverse
glass, painted MDF, ramin, steel, plastic, aluminium and pharmaceutical packaging

61 by 101.5 by 23 cm.
24 by 39 15/16 by 9 1/16 in.


  • Provenance
    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1994

    Robert Violette, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now., London 1997, p. 220, illustrated in colour

    Untitled aaaaaa, 1992 is one of a small core of works created by Damien Hirst that mark the epicentre of the shock that triggered the YBA wave in the early 1990s; with Hirst at its crest it was to prove a huge and enduring wave, one that was to sweep away much of what had come before. This signature medicine cabinet from the most innovative, creatively irresistible period of his career is a remarkably powerful and complex work which now appears on the market for this first time almost a quarter of a century after it was first created. The world may have changed a great deal since then, and the landscape of the art world in particular may be altered almost beyond recognition, but Untitled aaaaaa, 1992, remains constant, the themes that it explores are as challenging, and as pertinent, as ever. The present work provokes intense responses in its audience, compelling us to consider nothing less than our very mortality. Clean, elegant and precise, its calm air belies a more profound intent; ultimately it is a work of art which is joyous in its celebration of human life, and our natural compulsion to protect and improve it.

    Untitled aaaaaa takes us back to a moment when the artist had only recently exploded onto the art scene. It reminds us of a time when London was bathed in a bright spotlight, home to a new generation of so-called YBAs (the celebrated, at times notorious 'Young British Artists', whose ranks included Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume and Mat Collishaw amongst others), an era of Brit-Pop and 'Cool Britannia'. After years in the wilderness, British Art was finally revitalised, exhibiting a new sense of vigour and an uncanny ability to shock and outrage. Hirst stood, of course, at the forefront of this new movement, establishing himself as the art world's newest enfant terrible, a critical and commercial success on an almost unprecedented scale. In the wake of seminal exhibitions such as Freeze in 1988 and Modern Medicine in 1990, both held in the British capital in disused industrial spaces and co-curated by the artist, Hirst's profile had never been higher, and his work never so collectable.

    Although many of his works, most notably his skulls and his animals in formaldehyde, concern themselves with the inevitable end of life, Hirst's medicine cabinets deal more directly with the potential (or perhaps more correctly, the never-ending desire) to extend, even to save life. As the artist has stated, "You can't arrest decay but these medicine cabinets suggest you can" (the artist in: Adrian Dannatt, Life's Like This and Then It Stops, Flash Art, no. 169, 1993). The human desire for immortality has existed ever since man began to consider what came after death; for millennia, the question of what lay 'beyond the veil' has provoked fascination and fear in equal measure. Countless generations have relied on religion to provide the answer, bringing hope that, for some at least, paradise awaits. And yet still we face the end of life with a sense of terror, willing to do almost anything to delay or deny it. Modern medicine has offered a new sense of reassurance, a belief that, just maybe, we can hold off our inevitable demise. It is this attractive delusion, perhaps, which lies at the heart of works such as Untitled aaaaaa: "You take a medicine cabinet and you present it to people and it's just totally believable. I mean a lot of the stuff is about belief, I think, and the 'Medicine Cabinets' are just totally believable" (the artist in: Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 79).

    The carefully arranged selection of boxes, bottles and packages that we find in the present work is, both literally and metaphorically, clinical. Like Duchamp's iconic Fountain of 1917, this is a ready-made which forces the viewer to reconsider every-day objects in a gallery context. In its use of consumer items, it directly references 1960s Pop Art, while its blocky, geometric composition seems to recall the rigorously academic Minimalism of Carl Andre or Donald Judd.

    Today Hirst may be generally viewed as a Warholian, an artist who until recently explicitly eschewed the input of the artist as individual in the artistic process, but early works such as Untitled aaaaaa were created on a more personal scale, in the days before his practice reached almost industrial proportions beyond that of even Warhol's own New York 'Factory' studio space. While the first cabinets, produced by Hirst in the late 1980s when he was still studying at Goldsmiths, were arranged as a sort of map of the human body, each element placed in a position relative to the organ or appendage that it was used to treat, this technique was quickly jettisoned in favour of a more aesthetic approach. In the present work the items are arranged according to their shape and colour, setting up distinctive dialogues of volume, tone and texture. The humorous title of the present work refers to its unique (and rather appropriate, for a medicine cabinet) provenance, payment from Hirst to his dentist in return for work on the artist's own teeth, with the same dentist eventually being thanked by Hirst in his acceptance speech when he won the Turner Prize in 1995.

    Hirst's obsession with prescription drugs and pharmaceuticals has been well documented and much discussed. Many of his works, most notably his seminal Spot Paintings, bear titles related to such products, while a series of screen-prints entitled The Last Supper subverts the formulaic design of medical packaging by replacing the product names with everyday foodstuffs. In the same year that he created Untitled aaaaaa, 1992, Hirst also produced his most ambitious work in this series, entitled Pharmacy, now held in the collection of London's Tate Gallery. Originally presented at the Cohen Gallery, New York, Pharmacy expands the medicine cabinet motif into an enormous room-sized installation, a temple to the power of modern pharmaceuticals. Six years later, having produced a number of works exploring similar themes, Hirst opened his most audacious Pharmacy to date, namely a restaurant in London's Notting Hill decorated with numerous such cabinets. Attracting the great and the good, famous and infamous, seemingly constantly deluged by paparazzi, this was Hirst at his most brazen and populist, as art world wünderkind morphed into tabloid celebrity. Most recently creating cabinets plated with gold containing an array of sparkling diamonds, the series has now reached an acme of glamour and excess.

    In Untitled aaaaaa, 1992, however, we return to the springing point of this long journey of artistic evolution, glimpsing the moment when the concept was at its most original, and arguably its most compelling. A paean to technology and innovation, this work reminds us of the almost godlike potential of modern medicine. Featuring a language which most of us will never understand, a text of trademarks, product names, technical terminology and jargon, it confuses as much as it intrigues. The present work expresses our faith in the impossible, as well as our innate human desire to survive, and thus celebrates the beauty and wonder of life. As Hirst himself says, "Everything I do is a celebration. At the very least it is a celebration" (the artist in: I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London 1992, p. 13).
Damien Hirst (British, born 1965) Untitled aaaaaa 1992
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