“You can only cure people for so long and then they’re going to die anyway. You can’t arrest decay but these medicine cabinets suggest you can.”
Hirst began work on the ‘Medicine Cabinets’ whilst in his second year at Goldsmiths with ‘Sinner’ (1988). Constructing the MDF unit at home, he filled it with the empty packaging of his grandmother’s medication, which he'd requested she left him on her death.
‘Pretty Vacant’ is one of a group of thirteen Hirst made next. Explaining, “I like it when there is more than one way of saying something, like songs on an album”, he titled the cabinets after the twelve tracks on the Sex Pistol’s album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ (1977), with two named after ‘God Save the Queen’, (‘God’ (1989) and ‘god’ (1989)).
Hirst exhibited the first four from the ‘Sex Pistols’ series – ‘Bodies’, ‘Liar’, ‘Seventeen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ (all 1989) – at his Goldsmiths degree show (1989) in a shared space with Angus Fairhurst. All four works were bought from the show by gallerist Karsten Schubert for £500 each. The next two cabinets in the series – ‘Holidays’ (1989) and ‘No Feelings’ (1989) – were included in ‘New Contemporaries’, an exhibition of young artists held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1989, from which they were bought by the collector Charles Saatchi.
In their arrangement of objects the cabinets link Hirst’s earlier collages (1983 - 1987) to his later work. The used packages that fill the cabinets, described by Hirst as “empty fucking vessels”, were originally arranged as if the cabinet were itself a body, with each item positioned according to the organs it medically related to. However, this system did not last and the “minimalist delicious colours” of the designs swiftly became the most important criterion for their arrangement within each cabinet. Hirst has likened the minimalist packaging to the work of Sol Le Witt and Donald Judd: “They’re not flamboyant are they? They’re not allowed to sell themselves, except in a very clinical way. Which starts to become funny.”
The works explore the distinction between life and death, myth and medicine. Hirst notes: “You take a medicine cabinet and you present it to people and it’s just totally believable. I mean a lot of the stuff is about belief, I think, and the ‘Medicine Cabinets’ are just totally believable.”
In 2010 L & M Arts, New York, presented ‘The Complete Medicine Cabinets’, an exhibition of Hirst’s cabinets dating from 1988, shown alongside a collection of ‘Sex Pistols’ memorabilia.
 Damien Hirst cited in ‘Life’s Like This and Then It Stops’, Adrian Dannatt (Flash Art, no. 169, 1993)
 Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst, ‘The Complete Medicine Cabinets’ (Other Criteria/L & M Gallery, 2010), 69
 Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 211
 ibid., 24, 79