Damien Hirst’s butterfly art set to captivate India

August 26th, 2008 - 5:30 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 26 (IANS) The works of Damien Hirst, leading British contemporary artist and one of the most expensive, are set to be unveiled here Aug 27. But they may come as shock to Indian art lovers, who are just waking up to the aesthetics of contemporary and installation art. The highlights of the two-day show are three of his signature butterfly paintings - using dead butterflies.

Global auctioneer Sotheby’s has brought a cache of 20 art works by Hirst for the first-ever show of his works in the capital. It will also be the first by any leading post-war contemporary European artist in the country.

The works are part of the a show-cum-auction of 223 of the artist’s new works - “Beautiful Inside My head Forever” - set to open in London Sep 6. This is the first time Hirst is showing and selling his new body of art directly through an international auction house instead of galleries - the Gagosian Gallery in the US and the White Cube in Britain - that exhibit his works.

“This is our first-ever exhibition in Delhi of this kind and it follows the huge success of our exhibitions and series of events in Mumbai. India is currently one of the most exciting corners of the international art scene and our auction house appreciates the role that it has to play in the global market,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and Asia.

Hirst, born in 1965 is one of the most talented of the Young British Artists, who dominated the British art scene during the 1990s.

Death, decay, religion, art and regeneration are central to Hirst’s genre of works that span a diverse and a rather eclectic range to include installations of real animals preserved in formaldehyde inside glass boxes and embellished with metals like gold and silver. Also part of his works are spin art made on a spinning circular surface, spot paintings comprising rows of randomly coloured circles and butterfly art using live butterflies on the painted surfaces.

Some of his installations are also encrusted with diamonds. His works, according to estimates by Sotheby’s, are priced between 2 million pounds to 12 million pounds (approx. $3.5 million-$22 million).

“Damien is the leading artist of his generation. The extraordinary body of his works to be showcased at Sotheby’s are his most ambitious ever,” Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s international specialist in Contemporary Art, told IANS here.

“I wish Hirst was here, but he is busy in London installing his works for the September 5 preview. Damien is a hands-on person and he personally likes to supervise his army of studio technicians to mount his works,” said Barker, who is supervising the Hirst show in Delhi.

The highlight of the show, according to Barker, is the “Golden Calf”. An installation art of a calf preserved in formaldehyde and embellished with a 18-carat golden horn, hooves and a golden disk, the work enchanted viewers in Britain. It is the most expensive work on display at 12 million pounds.

Last year, Hirst set a price record at Sotheby’s by selling his work “Lullaby Spring” for 9.6 million pounds.

“But we had to be selective about our body of works in Delhi. The highlights of the Delhi hamper could be two Psalm Paintings, which make use of dead butterflies, inscriptions from the 27th Psalm (Biblical text) on the backing board with metallic paint on canvas,” Barker said.

The Psalm paintings are priced at $237,000- $256,000.

Two other striking works that could generate excitement are a spin painting, “Beautiful Black Hole” priced at 50,000-70,000 pounds, and two standalone butterfly paintings “New Gold and New Silver” and “No Life” at 120,000-180,000 pounds and 60,000-80,000 pounds respectively.

“We hope the exhibition will generate interest among Indian buyers to participate in the London auction because there has been a lot of activity in the contemporary art collecting segment in developing nations worldwide. Indians have now started buying western art,” Barker said.

Hirst, who according to the team of senior Sotheby’s officials, is apparently surprised that his works are being shown in India. “He believes in democratisation of sale,” the expert said.

Recently, Hirst went on record saying he would gradually stop making spin and butterfly paintings, his signature works, and reduce the number of animal installations or formaldehyde art.

“He has never run afoul of the animal rights lobby, though there have been questions raised. He ensures that his dead animals are sourced ethically,” Barker said.

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