In London, Damien Hirst exhibits NFTs and burns his paintings

What is more valuable, physical or digital artwork? Damien Hirst presents from Friday in London his first exhibition with NFTs, these digital reproductions which are shaking up the art market, during which the Briton will burn his own paintings.

In Damien Hirst’s gallery in south London, panels show more than 5 meters high 10,000 paintings by the 57-year-old artist on A4 sheets. Multicolored dots as far as the eye can see. And on the back of the sheets, the title of the work: handwritten phrases taken from the artist’s favorite songs. “Dead bird”, “I can see it now”, “Spending as a millionaire”, etc. Upstairs in the gallery, six fireplaces are just waiting to be used.

The works date from 2016, but it was two years later that “The Currency” project began to take on its current form. Damien Hirst, one of the most highly rated artists in the world, then conceived his first NFT project.

Acronym for “Non-Fungible Token”, the NFT is a “non-fungible token”, that is to say non-substitutable and therefore unique. Concretely, it is a theoretically unfalsifiable digital certificate of authenticity, registered in a “blockchain” (a chain of blocks), just like cryptocurrencies. NFTs have been breaking into the art world for several years.

Damien Hirst, a willingly provocative artist, unveiled “The Currency” in July 2021. The 10,000 works were put up for sale, at $2,000 each. Each of the 10,000 paintings, all similar with multicolored dots, signed by Damien Hirst and with a handwritten phrase by the artist on the back inspired by the lyrics of his favorite songs, corresponds to an NFT.

Prices quickly soared on the market, with the price of one of the 10,000 works climbing to $172,239.

– Diamond skull –

Buyers had one year, until July 27, to choose: either they opted for the paint or the NFT. More than half (5,149) decided to keep painting, the others preferred NFT. The physical work of art of the latter will therefore be burned.

“It’s an experience. (…) We force people to make a choice”, summarizes the artist in a video.

Damien Hirst himself will light the fire in the gallery’s fireplaces on October 11, during Frieze Week, one of the largest contemporary art fairs in the world. It will burn only part of the 4,851 paintings, the others will be burned gradually until the end of the exhibition on October 30.

“Conceptual artists in the 60s and 70s were saying that art doesn’t exist in the artistic object, it exists in the mind of the beholder, and this project is really no different,” says Damien Hirst . “Art doesn’t have to exist in the physical world, it can also exist in the digital world and now thanks to blockchain so does the ownership of that art.”

Since he created the diamond skull (“For the love of God”) in 2007, one of his most famous works, the artist explains that he has thought about the notions of wealth and value. “This project explores the boundaries between art and currency – when art changes and becomes currency and when currency becomes art,” he continues.

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In London, Damien Hirst exhibits NFTs and burns his paintings

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