Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
Damien Hirst (b. 1965)

Lullaby Winter

Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
Lullaby Winter
glass, stainless steel and painted cast pills
72 x 108 x 4 in. (182.9 x 274.3 x 10.2 cm.)
Executed in 2002.
Jay Jopling, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Lot Essay

Executed in 2002, Damien Hirst's Lullaby Winter appears to be a monumental altar to medicine. With its clinical gleam and the reflections of the mirrored background, the myriad different pills are presented as beautiful, colorful commercial objects. They are full of promise, of potential, of power. And at the same time, the overwhelming entirety of this assemblage is strikingly impressive in its own composition, in its formal presentation. Lullaby Winter manages to touch upon many of Hirst's key concerns: medicine, death, life, reality, art and its curative powers, while also having its own striking formal aesthetic presence.

Hirst's art has long been concerned with the concept of "better living through chemistry," and the effects of a world consumed by the hope of immortality. Many of his breakthrough works tackled these themes, for instance the Medicine Cabinets and the Pharmaceutical Paintings. In a sense, Lullaby Winter is the offspring of the union of both. For where the Medicine Cabinets presented medical products in their packaging or the packaging alone, implying its contents, the Pharmaceutical Paintings were designed to mimic the appearance of countless candy-like pills while also invoking a Minimalist aesthetic. Despite their figurative origins, the so-called 'spot' paintings had taken on a formal appearance that spoke of color, and of color alone. They appeared to deny their own source material, their inspiration in medication. In Lullaby Winter, this game is reversed. The pills, the original prompt for the spot paintings, have been used in order to echo the appearance of the pictures. This is a thematic and mimetic game of leapfrog, the spots being replaced by the pills which had originally been their inspiration. Thus Lullaby Winter, with its metallic sheen and the rainbow-like assortment of pills against their mirrored background, lays a claim to a Minimalist origin, to a colorist origin.

Hirst has long explained much of his art in terms of a pure and extreme appreciation of color, and this is reflected in the wide spectrum of the various pills. Many of them, naturally, are white or off-white, but in addition there are blues, reds, pinks, beiges, greens... 'I believe painting and all art should be ultimately uplifting for a viewer,' Hirst has explained. 'I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz. I hate taste - it's acquired' (D. Hirst, i want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997, p. 246). Or, as he also put it: 'I love colour more than [I do] most people... I'm a fantastic phenomenal fucking colourist. It's like, I'm a Bonnard, a Turner, a Matisse' (Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst & G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 69).

Hirst is not ingenuous enough to claim that color is his entire motivation, that he is a colorist pure and simple. It is not chance that has led him to focus on medicine as a subject matter and even as a medium. In Lullaby Winter, Hirst explores the modern fascination in and faith with medicine, with science. This is our new religion; by replacing the old idols with this new one, Hirst manages to expose our over-reliance and excessive trust in this. In the United Kingdom, over a century after Nietzsche's proclamation of God's death, the vacuum left by organised religion-- which has been largely abandoned, resulting in dwindling congregations and closing churches-- has been filled, as in so many other places in the Western world, with a new faith. We trust ourselves now to the alchemy of our doctors, to the mysterious magic that is held within each of the pills that we are prescribed. And we do so as unquestioningly as our forebearers followed various organised systems of belief. Are the objects so glamorously displayed in the mass-pedestal of Lullaby Winter, in this shrine, anything more than the talismans, relics, paintings and charms of other faiths? Hirst gives an example of this strange and blind faith in the doctors, the shamans and priests of the twenty-first century, by recounting an episode when he had tried to explain some of his works to his mother:

"She's an open-minded person," he said. "But she had a completely closed mind about it. 'Well, what's it for?' And there was no way of explaining it. And I was with my mum in the chemist's; she was getting a prescription, and it was, like, complete trust on the one level in something she's equally in the dark about. In the medicine cabinets there's no actual medicine in the bottles. It's just completely packaging and formal sculpture and organized shapes. My mum was looking at the same kind of stuff in the chemist's and believing in it completely. And then, when looking at it in an art gallery, completely not believing in it. As far as I could see, it was the same thing" (D. Hirst quoted in Hirst & Burn, op.cit., 2001, p. 25).

Hirst has often stated his own belief that art has its own curative powers, not merely in terms of therapy. In this context, the use of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals within his art, where it is sometimes subject and even medium, makes this belief wholly explicit, Hirst proclaiming his faith in art openly. At the same time, by presenting medicine in this context, he is undermining and questioning and exposing the blind modern faith, the fact that science has usurped the position and the purpose of the saints and biblical scenes that filled so many of Lullaby Winter's predecessors, the Old Masters that adorned so many churches and stately homes. In a sense, these concerns with health and the purpose of art relate to Hirst's continuing exploration of immortality, of cheating, somehow, the limitations of death. While the pills themselves are designed to keep the patient alive, to sustain life and evade death, so too the artwork itself is Hirst's own attempt at the eternal, to create something that will live on after him. As he has said, "You have to believe that art is more powerful than money and has a life beyond it. Art is the closest you can get to immortality, though it's a poor substitute" (D. Hirst quoted in S. Kent, "Death Becomes Him," Time Out, no. 1892, London, November 2006, p. 47). In a sense, then, the traditional content of the still life as memento mori is thus reversed in a bid for immortality-- and therefore is ironically twisted into the ultimate vanity.

Lullaby Winter is a play not only of faith in medicine and art, but also in reality. For just as there is no medicine in many of the Medicine Cabinets (although there is in others), so too there are in fact no pills in Lullaby Winter. Hirst performs a deft backflip in this work by presenting us with simulacra, with models of pills. These are painted, they are stand-ins, substitutes for the medications that they represent, creating an intriguing additional dimension of play and confusion when compared to the spot paintings on which Lullaby Winter is tangentially based. Thus the role of art and representation comes under the spotlight in a new context. Hirst has pointed out that sometimes a representation of reality is more effective, more to the point, more efficient in conveying a message. But even he concedes the importance of this extra layer of representation, of parody-- and of placebo:

"They look like real pills; that's all that matters. Real pills decay. They rot. They're made to dissolve in your body. Plus they're full of toxic substances. It's impossible to get them... art's not real life. I'm into theatre. I'm totally not into 'truth to materials.' As long as you can convince people... it doesn't matter whether it's real or not. Because the whole dilemma is: Is it real or isn't it? It's like: Are you real? What the fuck's going on?" (D. Hirst & G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 116).

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