Damien Hirst Wants to Repent for Art World Decadence with $40 Million Museum Devoted to Himself

He's launching a museum dedicated to his own art collection.

Damien Hirst.
Photo: Phaidon.com.

Damien Hirst—YBA poster boy and a divisive figure in the art world if there ever was one—is making headlines again. Only this time, it’s got nothing to do with a new series of works, but with a rather public (and rare) display of soul searching regarding his almost three decades in the spotlight. Maybe, that’s what turning 50 does to one.

“What have I done? I’ve created a monster,” he candidly confessed in a recent feature in the Guardian, in which he is pointedly profiled as “entrepreneurial, prolific, and populist”—adjectives that also aptly describe his art.

Hirst was referring to the guilt triggered by his luxurious lifestyle, decadent art parties, and the horde of art graduates—peaking at 250 during preparations for his 2012 Tate Modern retrospective—employed to churn out the pill sculptures and spot paintings that have made him one of the richest artists in the world, if not the richest.

But there is a way to stop the downward spiral, and for Hirst, it has taken the shape of a privately-owned, free-admission museum. The Newport Street Gallery in south London is a £25 million ($40 million), Caruso St. John-designed building, where Hirst will curate and display exhibitions made with works from his own art collection, which encompasses over 3,000 pieces.

A rendering of Newport Street Gallery, mDamien Hirst's soon-to-be opened museum in London<br>Photo via: Newport Street Gallery

A rendering of Newport Street Gallery, Damien Hirst’s soon-to-be opened museum in London
Photo via: Newport Street Gallery

Newport Street Gallery was initially slated to open this spring, but the launch date has now been pushed back to October 8, just a week before the 13th edition of the Frieze London art fair, the busiest week in the frenzied London art calendar.

Yesterday, Newport Street Gallery released more details about the inaugural exhibition, which will be a solo show devoted to the British painter John Hoyland, an artists’ artist, as talented as he is under-appreciated.

Hoyland’s will be the first exhibition in a series of shows that will showcase the highlights of Hirst’s ample art collection, which he began assembling in the late 1980s, and featuring pieces by modern and contemporary artists such as Francis Bacon, Banksy, Tracey Emin, Jeff Koons, Sarah Lucas, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Haim Steinbach, and Gavin Turk, as well as historical objects including natural history specimens, taxidermy, and anatomical models.

John Hoyland, Scando 2.10.80 (1980)<br>Photo via: Newport Street Gallery

John Hoyland, Scando 2.10.80 (1980)
Photo via: Newport Street Gallery

Hirst has previously exhibited parts of his collection in group exhibitions at London’s Serpentine Gallery, in 2006, and Turin’s Pinacoteca Agnelli, in 2013. But Newport Street Gallery will provide a continuous opportunity for Hirst to curate his collection and show the results to the public, free of charge. Call it philanthropy or navel gazing, depending on your point of view.

As with everything related to Hirst, there are critical voices who claim that what might be presented as selfless generosity driven by remorse is also a neat way of increasing the value of the art on display, which he of course owns.

But, while this might seem like a new direction for an artist known for his en masse object production, curating was actually what made Hirst in the first place. After all, what was the legendary “Freeze” exhibition but an extremely timely curatorial effort, courtesy of Hirst?

“Freeze,” for better or worse, launched the entire YBA saga, and with it, the careers of artists now as famous as Emin, Lucas, Mat Collishaw, Angus Fairhurst, Angela Bulloch, and Gary Hume.

David Bowie, Damien Hirst, and Julian Schnabel<br /> Photo: Roxanne Lowit via GQ Magazine

David Bowie, Damien Hirst, and Julian Schnabel
Photo: Roxanne Lowit via GQ Magazine

A return to curating might thus seem like a particularly sensible option for Hirst, whose credibility has come under scrutiny following his controversial yet hugely profitable 2008 Christie’s London auction, his widely-panned painting shows at the Wallace Collection in 2009 and at White Cube in 2012 (painted by him alone, for a change), and a slew of media embarrassments, including Henry Moore’s daughter accusing him of setting art back 100 years last winter.

His personal life has also experienced a series of commotions throughout the last decade, starting with his sobering up in 2006, his split from the mother of his children and long-time partner Maia Norman, and public fall outs with mentors Charles Saatchi and Larry Gagosian.


Larry Gagosian and Damien Hirst, afterparty for the opening of Damien Hirst: The Elusive Truth, Lever House, NYC, March 11, 2005
Copyright Patrick McMullan Company

Newport Street Gallery could mean a fresh start for the British artist. And he seems to be hugely motivated by it. According to the Guardian, he is overseeing every small detail of the project, even the food that will be served in the restaurant.

Just don’t expect to find the name of a trendy chef name there. “All chefs are cunts, like artists,” Hirst told the daily. Now, that’s a statement.

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