Contemporary sculptors at the British Museum.
4 October 2008 – 25 January 2009. Admission free.
Damien Hirst’s spot paintings, spin paintings, medicine cabinets, dead sharks in formaldehyde and diamond-encrusted skulls have become familiar around the globe.
Hirst’s work insistently addresses the same concerns: death, the body, the relationship between the sacred and the profane, between reason and superstition. His preoccupations are therefore perfectly suited to the Enlightenment Gallery, where he commandeers eight antique wall cases and fills them with 200 unique spin-painted plastic skulls.
Hirst’s fascination with skulls was initially inspired by the Museum’s collections, including the famous Crystal Skull. Cornucopia exploits the evocative, ritualistic qualities of such objects, and together they appear like a sinister shrine to a bloodthirsty deity. They offer a dark, superstitious riposte to the Enlightenment concerns – reason, collection and classification – that surround them.
'The Enlightenment Gallery is a cornucopia of exciting things from both the natural and man-made world. Whether it is the display of 13th-century English tiles from Maxstoke Priory depicting souls entering Heaven and Hell, or the detailed paper collages of plants by Mary Delany, or the prehistoric stone axes, or the rich maiolica ware with their tin glazes and decorative scenes, all is truly fascinating.
The gallery itself inspires me as a space with all those beautiful cabinets and cases complete with artefacts, so I was very glad to be asked to take part in this exhibition, to somehow be part of the Museum’s history.'