Artist Damien Hirst burns 1,000 of his paintings as part of his project “The Currency” 

On October 11th, one of Britain’s most well-known conceptual artists, Damien Hirst, started burning hundreds of his paintings after selling a series of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

Hirst, who found fame in the 90s Young British Artist Scene for preserving dead animals, launched his first NFT collection, “The Currency” – a collection of 10,000 NFTs that correspond with 10,000 of his original artworks – in July 2021.

The artist asked buyers who bought pieces from his latest collection to choose between the original artworks or the NFTs representing them. Those who chose the NFT meant that the corresponding painting would be burned. 

According to London’s Newport Street Gallery, the buyers were split almost evenly, with 5,149 picking the physical artwork and 4,851 opting for the NFT. 

Last year, NFTs soared in popularity as crypto-rich investors seized the opportunity to cash in on rising prices; however, sale volumes have recently seen a significant decline. 

The NFTs representing Hirst’s multi-coloured dot paintings reportedly sold for $2,000 (£1,800) each. 

Before each physical painting was burned, Hirst presented it to the camera to log its unique code to keep track of every piece being burned. It is estimated that the works Hirst burned are collectively worth almost £10 million.

When asked how he felt about burning his works, Hirst replied, “it feels good, better than I expected.” 

The artist posted on Instagram,  “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, 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.” 

In the rapidly moving world of digital assets, NFTs are a new type of asset that can be commodified. However, the methods of producing NFTs can be highly energy-intensive and harmful to the environment. 

One user commented on Hirst’s post, “either way, it’s all about the money”.  Another user said, “interesting strategy of maxing the carbon footprint for this collection.”

The artist is no stranger to critical remarks and is one of Britain’s most controversial artists. Known for his work preserving animals with formaldehyde in glass tanks, such as sharks and cows, Hirst’s concepts continue to leave critics divided. 

This recent stunt is no different, with some critics in the art world viewing the NFT burning with admiration and others criticising him for flaunting his wealth amidst the cost of living crisis. But knowing Hirst, it’s unlikely that public scepticism will ever put a stop to his controversial antics.

If anything, Hirst’s NFT project is an insightful experiment into the value people put on physical art compared to digital art.

The project’s outcome shows that fans of Hirst still appreciate NFTs despite the declining market and that around the same amount of crypto collectors appreciate physical art as much as they do digital.

Main image: One of Damien Hirst’s multi-coloured paintings burns at the Newport Street Gallery in London as part of his project “The Currency.” Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images