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Damien Hirst, Myth Explored, Explained, Exploded
Photograph: Myth Explored, Explained, Exploded (1993) . Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

Shark pickler Damien Hirst is having a show of his early works and it looks great

The sometime-YBA is going back to his creative roots

Chris Waywell

There aren’t many conceptual artworks in the world that have the totemic presence and instant recognisability of Damien Hirst’s ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ – his 1991 work that is essentially a whole preserved tiger shark in a big tank. You might not remember the exact title with all its earnest/ironic teenage gaucheness, but you sure as hell have seen that fish before.

If 2020 has been a year that’s all about doing things for ourselves, Hirst seems typically to be extrapolating the idea to an almost ludicrous degree, with a huge retrospective of his YBA-era works going on show at his own Newport Street Gallery. ‘End of a Century’ (presumably a Blur reference – let’s not forget that Hirst directed the rather literal and basically quite awful video for ‘Country House’, which features Keith Allen in a bowler hat and Graham Coxon driving a milkfloat) will include his famous medicine cabinets, spot paintings and various riffs on the dead and/or dismembered animals in tanks motif.  

Hirst has been better known in recent years as a gallerist and mega-bucks artworld celeb whose auctions rack up sales in the multi-millions, so this show should be a great opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with just how vital and challenging his work from the ’90s is. Along with his fellow YBAs like Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin, Hirst helped change the whole landscape of British art and put this country, and London in particular, at the forefront of the international artworld. Now they just need to reopen Madame Jojo’s…

‘End of a Century’ is at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery, Oct 7-Mar 7 2021. Free, advance booking required.

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