Lot 1061
  • 1061

DAMIEN HIRST | Love, Money, Mexico (in three parts)

3,800,000 - 4,500,000 HKD
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  • Damien Hirst
  • Love, Money, Mexico (in three parts)
  • butterflies, household gloss and enamel paint on canvas
  • each: 91.4 by 91.4 cm; 36 by 36 in.overall: 91.4 by 274.3 cm; 36 by 108 in.
signed, titled, numbered 1/3 – 3/3 respectively and dated 2008 on the reverse of each panel


White Cube, London
Private Collection
Sotheby's, London, 16 September 2008, lot 251
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale

Catalogue Note

Love, Money, Mexico
Damien Hirst

Art is about life and it can’t really be about anything else…there isn’t anything else. - Damien Hirst

Masterfully fusing symbols of life, death and regeneration, Love, Money, Mexico is an exquisite triptych from Damien Hirst’s iconic butterfly series. The artist employed the jubilant colours of the Aztec skull that inspired his iconic diamond-encrusted skull sculpture For the Love of God in 2007, one year before the current lot was created in 2008. The skull is central to Mexican imagery, and the title of the work directly references the well-documented importance of Mexican culture to the artist. In Mexico the butterfly is seen as a soul; each year at the end of October millions of monarch butterflies migrate into the remote Sierra Madre hills near the village of Angangueo. The extraordinary phenomenon is celebrated as Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) with the butterflies regarded as returning souls of the deceased, and each year families and friends gather for a festive remembrance of their departed loved ones. The current work, executed in 2008, falls on the same year that the Mexican tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, constituting an important symbolic work within the artist’s esteemed oeuvre. 

Hirst began using butterflies in his oeuvre shortly after his graduation from Goldsmiths in 1989. In 1991, his legendary first solo exhibition titled In and Out of Love occupied two floors in a gallery in London, where living butterfly pupae that hatched, grew and died in one room, and a display of gloss monochrome canvases with butterfly bodies attached in the other. By exhibiting living and dead insects together, the artist created an environment where the cycle of life and death co-existed for all to witness and experience. The juxtaposition between the revolving cycle of life and the splendour of butterflies immortalised by taxidermy reveals the artist’s fascination with not only the binary of life and death but also the possibility of life’s trajectory beyond death. ‘I like tragedy. Tragic hope,’ Hirst once said (Cristina Carillo de Albornoz, ‘Damien Hirst Conquers Mexico’, Art Newspaper, April 2006, pp. 38-9). In the face of life’s eventual non-negotiable closure, Hirst describes his canvases of butterflies as ‘pathways through the darkness’ which transmigrate the viewer to the other-worldly realm where death is a celebration of life (quoted in Amie Corry, ‘Light in the Darkness’, in Damien Hirst: The Complete Psalm Paintings, London 2015, p.11). 

The butterfly’s metamorphic life cycle from being a caterpillar, a pupa and finally a butterfly is an elegant and poetically evocative universal embodiment of life, death, reincarnation and resurrection. The insect has enjoyed a longstanding history in folklore as well as artistic representation in both the East and West: In Greek mythology, Psykhe (Psyche), Goddess of the Soul, was depicted in ancient mosaic art as a butterfly-winged woman in the company of her husband Eros, God of Love. In another scene from Greek Mythology, the Titan Prometheus, who is credited for the creation of man out of clay, is carving out a statue whilst the Goddess Athena holds a butterfly over the statue's head, bestowing it with a soul and giving it life. In Christian art, meanwhile, Christ is occasionally depicted to be holding a butterfly emblematic of his sacrifice and miraculous resurrection. And finally in one of China’s four great folktales, ‘The Butterfly Lovers’ (Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai), a pair of tragic lovers unable to marry in life were re-united in death when their spirits emerged from their grave in the form of a pair of butterflies. The beauty of the butterfly even in death, iconically embodied in Hirst’s oeuvre, accordingly blurs the line between the two polarities of the dead and the living. 

In Hirst’s own words: “I’ve got an obsession with death, but I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid. You can’t have one without the other” (cited in Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 21). In his butterfly works, Hirst offers spectators an iridescent horizon of the human psyche where one oscillates between states of hopes and fear. The weightless bodies of the butterflies serve as effigies of death that ceaselessly remind the spectator of mortality and life’s frailty, yet their airborne dance enlivened by their incandescently coloured wings solicits a sense of wonder in the midst of the resplendent pathos.

Hirst also equated money to “love and death”, insisting that it was “as important as love, or death […] it’s something you need to respect” (cited in “According to Damien Hirst, You Can’t Make Art Without Money”, Artnet News, 18 May 2016, n.p.). Little needs be said about the inextricable presence of money in the oeuvre of Hirst, who sold the aforementioned diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God, for a reported $100 million in 2007. Hirst has even been described as an artist who “turned making money into an art form” (Business Insider, April 2012, n.p.), In regards to the present work however, with its tongue-in-cheek title “Love, Money, Mexico”, one might extrapolate deeper connotation by looking into the cultural heritage of butterfly collecting. The Victorian obsession with curiosities and nature sparked a collection frenzy in which the butterfly became a lucrative commodity. The specimens were ordered and aesthetically arranged in display cases and cabinets which Hirst denounced as a reflection of man’s subconscious desire for dominance over the natural world. Hirst’s butterfly paintings, therefore, at once endorse and reverse such a power relation whilst inviting meditation and contemplation on concepts of ownership and possession, incorporating all of the supreme inventiveness that propelled him to international acclaim.