DAMIEN HIRST (B. 1965)
DAMIEN HIRST (B. 1965)
DAMIEN HIRST (B. 1965)
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DAMIEN HIRST (B. 1965)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTOR
DAMIEN HIRST (B. 1965)

Aten

Details
DAMIEN HIRST (B. 1965)
Aten
incised with the artist’s signature, numbered and dated ‘Damien Hirst 3/3 MMXV TT62-3’ (on the underside)
red marble, grey agate and gold leaf
50 1/8 x 25 3/8 x 25 3/4in. (127.3 x 64.5 x 65.5cm.)
Executed in 2015, this work is number three from an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2017.
Exhibited
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Punta della Dogana, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, 2017, pp. 80 and 318 (illustrated in colour, pp. 81 and 328).
Rome, Galleria Borghese, Archaeology Now, 2021, p. 252, no. 44 (another from the edition exhibited, illustrated in colour, p. 252; installation view, illustrated in colour, pp. 131, 137 and 138).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

An extraordinary meditation on art, myth and humanity, Aten (2015) is a definitive work from Damien Hirst’s celebrated project Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Named after the ancient Egyptian sun god Aten, its lustrous marble and gold surface is carved in the likeness of twenty-first-century icon Rihanna, her intricate tattoo of the goddess Isis on her chest. The work bears witness to one of Hirst’s most ambitious technical and conceptual artistic undertakings. In 2017, the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice were transformed into vast spectacles of wonder, filled with glistening artefacts supposedly excavated from the depths of the Indian Ocean after more than two thousand years. The hoard, Hirst’s story told, had once belonged to the legendary collector Cif Amotan II, whose precious cargo was shipwrecked near the ancient trading port of Azania. Blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, the exhibition raised pertinent questions about where we place our faith, suggesting that any encounter with art demands a certain suspension of belief. Seamlessly fusing past and present, Aten forces us to confront this question head on, impelling us to submit to its illusion.

From pristine simulations of weathered coral, to the accompanying Netflix documentary detailing the excavation, the exhibition’s magic was wholly conceived. The present work’s physical appearance is as immaculate as it is virtuosic, with traces of barnacles and sea creatures replicated with the same precision and detail as Rihanna’s distinctive body art. At the back of the catalogue, historical notes purported to shed light upon the objects’ origins and significance: ‘face upturned towards the sky’, the present work’s description ran, ‘this bust’s unusual pose likely relates to the dramatic monotheistic revolution initiated by the pharaoh Akhenaten in the fourteenth century BCE. Akhenaten discarded the vast pantheon of Egyptian gods in favour of a single solar entity: “Aten”, the life-giver. The subject of veneration was thus no longer found within man-made shrines, but in the sky above’ (Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, exh. cat. Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogana, Venice 2017, p. 328). Rihanna, notably, released her single ‘Towards the Sun’ in the year of the present work.

Aten is particularly notable for its conflation of real and mythic figures. The catalogue note’s story of Aten and Akhenaten appeals to ancient Egyptian legend and history in equal measure. Rihanna’s image, meanwhile, is deeply engrained in contemporary popular culture: Hirst, significantly, had previously styled her as Medusa for his 2013 cover shoot for GQ. Other likenesses—from Pharrell Williams and Mickey Mouse to Transformers—featured in the exhibition, similarly recast as icons from the past. In yoking together radically different time frames, Hirst asks at what point fact slips into fantasy. Aten, Akhenaten and Rihanna are all—in their own way—illusions, their images worshipped, their lives imagined and their truths only half known. In the same vein, one might just as easily entertain the tale of Amotan, a former slave from Antioch who, between the mid-first and early-second centuries CE, built a fortune large enough to acquire an incomparable collection. Only the keenest observers would note that ‘Cif Amotan II’ was an anagram of ‘I am a fiction’; the name of the ill-fated ship, moreover—Apistos—translated to ‘unbelievable’ in Koine Greek.

Since the advent of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’, artists have repeatedly grappled with the question of simulacra. Andy Warhol repeated pre-existing images ad infinitum; his works, in turn, were immaculately replicated by Elaine Sturtevant. Jeff Koons conjured impossible treasures through precision engineering, while Banksy placed parodies of artworks in major museums to see if anyone noticed. Aten—an exquisitely crafted cipher of something that never existed in the first place—sits within this trajectory. Built into the exhibition’s narrative, indeed, was a nod to the complexities of authenticity: the exhibition guide explained that Amotan’s collection of ‘commissions, copies, fakes, purchases and plunders’—some of which were awaiting restoration—were displayed alongside ‘a series of contemporary museum copies’ (Exhibition guide for Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice 2017, p. 3). For Hirst, who had previously suspended sharks in formaldehyde and turned medicine cabinets into shining temples, art and myth have always been two sides of the same coin. Here, face turned upwards towards the sky, Aten prompts us to take a stand.

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