Damien Hirst—the most prominent of the YBAs—is nothing if not provocative. After training at Goldsmiths College in London, he surged onto the international scene when he conceived and curated “Freeze,” a 1988 exhibition of works by his friends and fellow students, among them Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, and Mat Collishaw. Proving a career launch pad for many of the young artists included, the show embodied the group’s signature blend of entrepreneurial bravado, irony, and shock tactics, imitating in design the brand new gallery space of billionaire art collector Charles Saatchi, who later become a major Britart patron. Since then, Hirst has continued to push the envelope, creating sculptures, paintings, and installations that have at turns ignited and scandalized the industry—from a 14-foot tiger shark exhibited in a tank of formaldehyde to a diamond-encrusted skull—raking in millions and turning the art market on its head.
Throughout his career, Hirst has continually explored the morbid and macabre, exhibiting a perverse interest in the human obsession with cleanliness and suggesting our desire to sterilize, numb, and even deaden. Begun in the 1980s, his iconic series of “Medicine Cabinet”installations—the first of which he produced in his kitchen at the age of 23, using pharmaceutical packaging from his recently deceased grandmother’s bathroom—embodied that investigation, satirically suggesting the transcendent power of prescription drugs. Beyond suggesting their symbolic status as pretty promises of delicious oblivion, Hirst’s “Cabinets”presented pills, salves, and medicine bottles as objects of aesthetic perfection, minimally designed and sleekly branded. “Pills are a brilliant little form, better than any minimalist art,” he says. “They’re all designed to make you buy them… they come out of flowers, plants, things from the ground, and they make you feel good, you know, to just have a pill, to feel beauty.”
Debuting in October at Paul Stolper Gallery in London, “Schizophrenogenesis” presents a series of new prints and sculptural editions that build on that investigation, probing the vision of uncluttered, simple clarity guaranteed by a drug-addled modern life. The exhibition is introduced by a long neon sign announcing its title—“Schizophrenogenesis,” a word-play on the pseudo-psychiatric condition that prevailed in mid-20th century family psychology—as both a warning sign and a beacon. Viewers are enticed into the gallery, where they are confronted by The Cure: a wall of bubble-gum bright silkscreen prints, each depicting a two-color pill set against a vibrant background. Corresponding sculptural works fill the space—enlarged resin pills, sculptures of medicine bottles, pharmaceutical boxes, ampoules, syringes, a scalpel—in varying distortions of scale. In Hirst’s twisted, Alice in Wonderland playground, narcotics take on mythic, even religious proportions, and doctors churn out prescriptions in the same way Catholic priests offered Indulgences—both exchanges ostensibly opening the door to a happier, more sanitary existence.