Burn, Baby, Burn! Damien Hirst Will Set His Own Drawings Aflame in the Culmination of His Grand NFT Experiment ‘The Currency’

What happens when a YBA crosses paths with NFTs?

Damien Hirst with The Currency artworks, 2021. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2022.

Damien Hirst is famous for submerging a dead shark and a bisected sheep in tanks of formaldehyde, but he says his new NFT project is his “most exciting by far.”

“The Currency,” as it is called, will offer 10,000 unique NFTs to collectors who must then choose whether to keep the token or an original work on paper—but they can’t have both.

With the deadline for the choice looming tomorrow, Hirst has announced that he will literally burn any of the physical artworks that have not been not picked up in exchange for a token.

Damien Hirst, Love Still Burns (2016). Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Courtesy of Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2022.

Damien Hirst, Love Still Burns (2016). Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Courtesy of Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2022.

The destruction of the artworks will take place during an exhibition, also titled “The Currency,” at Newport Street Gallery in London, starting September 9. 

“Artworks will be burnt at a specified time each day during the run of the show. These timings will be publicized in advance,” read a statement from the artist.

Later this fall, during Frieze week in October, the gallery will stage a closing event to burn the remaining artworks, with Hirst in attendance. 

According to a running tally, the numbers are weighted in favor of the NFTs with 5,713 tokens remaining and 4,219 having been traded for physical artworks. 

Hirst made the physical artworks in 2016 using enamel paint on handmade paper. Each work is numbered, titled, stamped, and signed by the artist on the back. Additional authenticity features include a watermark, a microdot, and a hologram containing a portrait of the artist. No color is repeated twice on any artwork.

The titles were generated through a machine learning program using some of the artist’s favorite song lyrics, including “Well my pit,” “Dream about going down,” “Open the canyons,” and “Love is born here.”

The art and tech company Heni Analytics has been producing a monthly report on the buying and selling of Hirst’s NFTs on the secondary market, which have sharply dropped in value since the project began and as crypto prices plunge, according to the Art Newspaper.

The first report notes that between July 30 and August 31, 2021, there were 2,036 sales of “The Currency,” totaling $47.9 million. By comparison, last month just 170 sales took place, bringing in a total of $1.4 million. However, the resale of physical works appears to be faring better. In January, one of the original paintings sold at Phillips London for £18,900 ($26,000).

Hirst is no stranger to making volatile and high-risk maneuvers at the highest levels of the art market. After Hirst directed a fisherman in Australia to catch and kill a 14-foot shark, he submerged it in formaldehyde and sold it to Charles Saatchi on commission for £50,000.

In 2006, the work, titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, sold to hedge fund manager Steve Cohen for a reported $8 million, though by that time the shark had deteriorated badly enough that it had to be replaced.

And in 2008, Hirst made headlines for his diamond-encrusted skull For The Love of God, which sold to a consortium of investors for a hefty $100 million—but then raised eyebrows when it turned out that Hirst himself was a member of the consortium.

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