‘The Golden Calf’ was the focal piece in the Sotheby’s auction, ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever’ (2008). Encased in a gold vitrine and mounted on a plinth of Carrara marble, the formaldehyde-preserved British Charolais bull has horns and hooves cast in solid 18 carat gold.
The work’s title refers to the Exodus account of the Israelites’ idolatrous worship of a Golden Calf during Moses’s absence. As in traditional artistic depictions of the idol, Hirst’s calf is crowned with a sun disc of solid gold, a symbol of pagan deification.
Through its opulent materials, the work elevates the cow recurrent in earlier ‘Natural History’ works. Hirst explains the prevalence of gold at the Sotheby’s auction is “definitely all about feeling a bit like King Midas”. Whilst noting that increased wealth naturally extends an artist’s reach, he also references the double-edged conceptual appeal of the metal. “Gold’s the thing [that], when you open the briefcase in the movies, shines on you and sucks you in. It brings out the worst in you as well as the best. Midas dies of starvation, doesn’t he?”
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol in 1965. He first came to public attention in 1988 when he conceived and curated ‘Freeze’, an exhibition of his own work and that of his contemporaries at Goldsmiths college, staged in a disused London warehouse. Since this time Hirst has become widely recognised as one of the most influential artists of his generation.
Through a varied practise of installation, sculpture, painting and drawing Hirst has sought to explore the complex relationship between art, life and death. Alongside over 80 solo exhibitions he has worked on numerous curatorial projects. In 2008, Hirst took the unprecedented step of bypassing gallery involvement in selling 244 new works at a Sotheby’s, London auction entitled ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever’.
Hirst was awarded the Turner Prize in 1995 and his contribution to British art over the last two and a half decades has been acknowledged in a major solo retrospective exhibited at Tate Modern, London. He lives in Devon and has studios in Gloucester and London.
Text © Damien Hirst & Science Ltd., All rights reserved, 2012