The hills are alive—with the art of Damien Hirst. The UK artist is showing more than 40 works in the Alpine Swiss city of St. Moritz including a 12-foot sculpture, called The Monk, which has been installed in the centre of the frozen Lake St. Moritz.
The Mental Escapology show, which opens next month (19 January-23 February), is spread across four indoor and outdoor sites. Another work Two Figures with a Drum will be sited on the north-eastern edge of the lake. Both pieces were last seen in Hirst’s headline-hitting 2017 exhibition Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable at the Pinault Collection in Venice.
Other exhibition venues for the St. Moritz show include the Forum Paracelsus, an 18th-century building located on the site of an ancient thermal bath. Recognisable works from the Natural History series—animal corpses preserved in formaldehyde—and a photorealist painting titled Surgical Tools for Caesarean will go on show in the neoclassical space.
Kaleidoscope Paintings, which reference “the spiritual symbolism of the butterfly” according to Hirst’s website, will be shown in the Protestant church in the town centre. Unseen works from the 1990s Spot (Pharmaceutical) Paintings series, daubed with random irregularly shaped spots, will also be exhibited.
The exhibition has been curated by the art director Jason Beard, who has previously collaborated with Hirst on web and editorial projects, and organised by the dealer Oscar Humphries. “Most of the loans come from the artist. A few key works have been borrowed from private collections,” Humphries says.
“St. Moritz is an increasingly important art centre and this will be the most ambitious exhibition ever staged there. The valley, the lake, the venues we are showing in are perfect for Damien’s work. For me, it was a case of a spectacular and interesting place crying out for an artist who made work that was the mirror in scale and impact of the location,” he adds.
Asked if the exhibition includes pieces for sale, Humphries adds: “It’s not a selling show. We have produced the exhibition with the assistance and encouragement of the municipality of St. Moritz. It is a public exhibition, Damien’s first in Switzerland, which seems remarkable to me. Our desire was to make something material, big, joyous and life affirming in this difficult, digital and distanced world we are living in.”
Humphries launched a show of works by Sean Scully early last year in St. Moritz, a ski resort for affluent holidaymakers which has been rebranded as an art destination. Galleries such as Hauser & Wirth and Robilant + Voena have set up shop in the picturesque town nestled in the Engadin valley.
Hirst’s showstopping art should be a natural fit for the dramatic mountain backdrop. “Damien’s sculpture The Monk—something from the deep—on a frozen lake is a kind of perfect impossible thing. The engineering behind it was difficult, impossible even. But one of Damien’s central themes is the impossible so it’s an amazing symbiosis,” says Humphries.
Beard says: “Damien has always thought about science as religion and religion as science, so it’s fascinating to be able to draw links between his work and these sites where pilgrims have sought healing for over 3,000 years. Being able to bring this survey to four very distinct, historical and naturally beautiful settings is a very exciting opportunity.”