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Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
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Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
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Damien Hirst (b. 1965)

Mickey

Details
Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
Mickey
incised with the artist's signature and number 'D. Hirst 2/3' (on the reverse)
bronze
35 7/8 x 28 x 24 in. (91 x 71 x 61 cm.)
Executed in 2016. This work is number two from an edition of three plus two artist's proofs.
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Exhibited
Venice, Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, April-December 2017, pp. 188-189, 323 and 407 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Paris, Chapelle de Laennec, Pleurs de Joie, September 2019 (another example exhibited).
London, Newport Street Gallery, Reason Gives No Answers, September-November 2019, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note this work is incised with the artist’s signature and number on the reverse.

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Lot Essay

A master of pageantry and provocateur extraordinaire, Damien Hirst has a unique ability for melding spectacle with musings on time, death, and history. Though the introspective qualities may at first seem shrouded in showmanship, the depth present in his preserved sheep, pharmacy shelves, and coral-encrusted statues of cartoon characters is manifold. Works like Mickey are paramount in their ability to draw an audience based on superficial recognition, and then keep them engaged to explore the underlying stories and themes long after the initial realization fades. By bringing taboo subjects like death and the subjectiveness of history to the fore, he establishes a level playing field for viewers to experience and question complex issues. “Death is one of those things,” he notes, “To live in a society where you're trying not to look at it is stupid, because looking at death throws us back into life with more vigour and energy. The fact that flowers don't last forever makes them beautiful” (D. Hirst, quoted in E. Day, “Damien Hirst: 'Art is childish and childlike,’’’ The Observer, September 26, 2010). Being aware of natural cycles and the vastness of history helps to establish appreciation for the past, present, and future. Stepping back to observe just how much has happened (and has yet to take place) in the course of human existence is a humbling experience, and one that Hirst wields with finesse.

Cast in bronze, Mickey portrays the titular talking rodent in a jaunty pose wearing his trademark boots and bloomers. The figure itself is a patinated gray-green meant to mimic the oxidation of metal that has spent years on the seafloor. The abundance of coral growth on the surface adds to this illusion. Hirst has deftly melded the character and the coral into an object out of time. Blooms of pink, blue, green, brown, and crimson vie with branches of spindly branch coral for control of the cartoon visage. A colony of mustard-colored polyps on the base of the statue sets the whole piece akimbo as it rocks backward. Though the work is made to resemble a long-lost work only recently unearthed, all the traces of time and organic growths are manufactured. Going to great lengths, Hirst has cast the entire piece out of bronze and then added color and faux patina to give the illusion of age. If Mickey was a curly-bearded warrior or diaphanous nymph covered in the signs of waterlogging, we might be fooled. But by making sure the figure is obviously of contemporary origins, Hirst lets us in on the joke as he reveals a larger anachronistic plot.

An obvious piece of fiction in a broader pseudo-historical project, Mickey is one of several ‘found treasures’ from Hirst’s grand undertaking for his 2017 Venice exhibition. Entitled Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, the exhibition was accompanied by a full-length documentary following the ‘discovery’ and salvage of an ancient shipwreck off the coast of East Africa. Hirst is acknowledged as the financier for the Indian Ocean rescue operation, and from the murky depths a veritable trove of priceless artifacts is extracted. Purported to be the lost 1st- or 2nd-century collection of a former slave named Cif Amotan II, works like Mickey are still encrusted with the multicolored growths of coral their centuries-long swim has provided. Other pieces, which range in subject from Rihanna and Pharrell to Optimus Prime and the snake-haired Medusa, are in similar states. Others are bereft of their adornment and have been ‘restored’ to their original glory. The entire undertaking is swathed in an air of tongue-in-cheek mysticism which smacks of Hirst’s conflation of science, commercialism, and poking fun at the art world at large. “[W]hat shows through here is still the Hirst we know, the artist preoccupied with pseudo-scientific inquiries, jewel-encrusted relics, seriality, repetition, and the careful preservation of the dead. Instead of drugs, he offers glass cabinets full of treasures: scimitars and spoons crusted over with orange rusts and gorgeous cerulean oxides—row after row of beautiful fabrications, in both senses of the word.” (J. Zara, “One Man’s Trash is Damien Hirst’s Treasure,” ARTnews, April 21, 2017). Known for his grandiose installations, as well as his preoccupation with the idea of time, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is peak Hirst.

Mickey Mouse is no stranger to Hirst’s iconography, and the sheer pervasiveness of the red-shorted mouse in popular culture makes him instantly recognizable. Even in pieces like Mickey (2012), a self-referential composition made from the artist’s signature dots and commissioned by Disney, Hirst plays with the legacy of Pop Art and its lasting influence on the continuous growth of capitalism and commercialism. The artist’s predecessors, like Roy Lichtenstein, made prominent use of cartoon and comic characters in their works. By following down this path Hirst aligns himself with the inquisitorial nature of early Pop. Pieces like the elder painter’s Look Mickey (1961) recreate a previously-printed scene of Donald Duck, his fishing line hooked to his own jacket unbeknownst to him, shouting, “Look Mickey, I’ve hooked a big one!!” Mickey Mouse covers his mouth with a gloved hand, trying not to laugh at his friend’s mistaken fortune. Given the nautical nature of Hirst’s faux-historical Mickey, one might wonder if the artist sees himself as the knowing mouse, and we are all the duck with the hook in our shirt.

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