The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selected Works from 1989 - 2004

31 October 2004 – 31 January 2005
Solo Exhibition. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, Italy.

Photographed by Peppe Avallone © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

The exhibition was arranged in broad chronological terms as a survey of Hirst’s career to date. It was introduced by way of the four ‘Medicine Cabinets’ he had exhibited at the Goldsmiths degree show in 1989. Other important early pieces included were the fly vitrine ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990), one of the first ‘Natural History’ works, ‘Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding (Left)’ (1991), and the vitrine originally exhibited at ‘Internal Affairs’ (1991), ‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’ (1991). 

The ‘Mental Escapology’ works, ‘I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now’ (1991), ‘Loving in a World of Desire’ (1995) and ‘The History of Pain’ (1999), were shown together for the first time in Naples.

Series from later in Hirst’s career were represented by a large stainless-steel pill cabinet, ‘Standing Alone on the Precipice and Overlooking the Arctic Wastelands of Pure Terror’ (1999-2000), the bronze sculpture ‘Hymn’ (1999-2000) and a series of ‘Kaleidoscope’ paintings. Four fly paintings titled ‘Typhoid’, ‘Aids’, ‘Holocaust’ and ‘Genocide’ (2003-2004) were hung in the final room, mirroring in size the suite of early 'Medicine Cabinets'.

Of his decision to stage a retrospective at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in 2004, Hirst explained: “I think that I have always avoided [a retrospective], but then, I have never seen a space like it. It has got a kind of floatiness to it … I think giving up drinking probably has a lot to do with doing a retrospective show. Because you just suddenly find yourself in a position where you can look back. You calm down a lot, and the dust settles and you look around.”[1]

The catalogue produced on the occasion of the exhibition included texts by the curators Eduardo Cicelyn and Mario Codognato, as well as an extensive interview with Hirst conducted by Mirta D’Argenzio (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Napoli, 2004).

[1] Damien Hirst cited in Mirta D’Argenzio, ‘Like People, Like Flies: Damien Hirst interviewed’, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selected Works 1989 – 2004’ (Electa Napoli, 2004), 250