Dubbed Britain’s richest artist, Damien Hirst threw hundreds of his artworks into a fire on Tuesday 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 Artists scene, launched his first NFT collection “The Currency” – 10,000 NFTs corresponding to 10,000 original artworks depicting colorful 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 he would burn 1,000 artworks on Tuesday. Livestreaming the event, the Turner Prize winner and assistants used tongs to deposit individual pieces stacked in piles into fireplaces in the gallery as onlookers watched. Hirst was dressed in silver metallic boiler-suit trousers and matching fire safety gloves as he threw the art pieces to the firebox at the Newport Street Gallery in London
“A lot of people think I’m burning millions of dollars of art but I’m not, I’m completing the transformation of these physical artworks into NFTs by burning the physical versions,” Hirst wrote on Instagram on Monday.
“The value of art digital or physical, which is hard to define at the best of times, will not be lost it will be transferred to the NFT as soon as they are burnt,” he added.
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.
Hirst, 57, is known for his divisive works. He is also famous for his spot paintings and “For The Love Of God” (2007), a platinum cast of an 18th-century human skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. The artwork is generally associated with the concept of “memento mori” by art critics, an artistic or symbolic trope functioning as a reminder of the inevitability of death.
Asked how he felt to be burning the works, Hirst said: “It feels good, better than I expected.”
NFTs soared in popularity last year as crypto-rich speculators sought to cash in on rising prices but sales volumes have fallen more recently.