Damien Hirst burns artworks after collectors pick their NFTs instead

2 mins read

Britain’s Damien Hirst started burning hundreds of his artworks on Tuesday (October 11) after collectors chose to keep their non-fungible tokens (NFTs), blockchain-based assets representing their digital images, instead.

Hirst, who found fame amid the 1990s Young British Artist scene, launched his first NFT collection “The Currency” – 10,000 NFTs corresponding to 10,000 original artworks depicting colourful spots – in July 2021. 

Collectors had to choose between keeping the NFT, which reportedly sold for $2,000, or swapping it for the physical artwork. Some 5,149 picked the latter while 4,851 opted for the NFTs, according to London’s Newport Street Gallery.

It said artworks for non-exchanged NFTs would be destroyed and vice versa. Hirst told his Instagram followers on Monday (October 10) he would burn 1,000 artworks on Tuesday (October 11).

The Turner Prize winner and assistants used tongs to deposit individual pieces stacked in piles into fireplaces in the gallery as onlookers watched. 

“When did I decide I was going to burn my art? I decided that once I gave people the opportunity to choose between physical and digital art, I had to decide what to do with the physical for all the people who chose digital so that was the point when I realised I had to destroy it,” he said during the burning.

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An art piece by British artist Damien Hirst is pictured burning during a photocall at the Newport Street Gallery in London, on October 11, 2022, as part of Hirst’s exhibition “The Currency”. Credit line: Isabel INFANTES / AFP / Profimedia

“And when we created the NFTs we burned them into existence so it made sense to remove the physicals through burning them into non-existence. It kind of made some sort of sense to me.”

The artworks, created in 2016 with enamel paint on handmade paper and each numbered, titled, stamped and signed, will be burned until “The Currency” exhibition closes on Oct. 30.

NFTs soared in popularity last year as crypto-rich speculators sought to cash in on rising prices but sales volumes have fallen more recently. 

Asked about digital versus traditional art, Hirst said: “I just think that digital art is becoming art…And I like art, digital and physical for different reasons.”

Hirst, 57, is known for his divisive works, which include “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, consisting of a dead shark floating in formaldehyde and “Mother and Child, Divided”, a bisected cow and calf.

He is also famous for his spot paintings and “For The Love Of God”, a platinum cast of an 18th-century human skull encrusted with diamonds.

Speaking about the burning of the art, Hirst said: “I think the idea I was worried about it but I think the reality of it is more transformational. It feels like the NFTs are sort of being fixed permanently as NFTs.”

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British artist Damien Hirst burns an art piece during a photocall at the Newport Street Gallery in London, on October 11, 2022, as part of his exhibition “The Currency”. Credit line: Isabel INFANTES / AFP / Profimedia

“I’m kind of rooted in the physical art world and I find the digital art world more challenging. But I think this has to be part of the process to create truly digital artworks is to destroy the physical artwork. The two can’t exist at the same time.” (REUTERS)

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