Damien Hirst, a British artist, entrepreneur, and art collector, began torching hundreds of his artworks on Tuesday after most artists decided to retain their non-fungible tokens (NFTs). These blockchain-based assets represent their digital images in place of physical artwork.
Hirst, who rose to prominence during the 1990s Young British Artist scene, will release his first NFT collection, “The Currency”, in July 2021, with 10,000 NFTs corresponding to 10,000 original artworks depicting colorful spots.
Collectors were given the option of keeping the NFT, which reportedly sold for $2,000, or exchanging it for the physical artwork. According to the Newport Street Gallery in London, 5,149 people chose the latter, while 4,851 chose the NFTs.
It stated that non-exchanged NFT artworks would be destroyed and vice versa. Hirst announced on Monday to his Instagram followers that he would burn 1,000 artworks on Tuesday.
While spectators watched, the Turner Prize winner and his helpers utilized tongs to insert individual pieces piled in heaps into fire pits in the gallery.
“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.”
The artworks, which were created in 2016 with enamel paint on handmade paper and were each numbered, titled, stamped, and signed, will be burned until the exhibition “The Currency” closes on Oct. 30.
NFTs gained popularity as crypto-rich speculative investors sought to profit from rising prices, but sales volumes have recently declined.
Hirst, 57, is known for controversial works such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” which features a dead shark floating in formaldehyde, and “Mother and Child, Divided,” which features a bisected cow and calf.
He is also known for his spot paintings and the platinum cast of an 18th-century human skull encrusted with diamonds, “For The Love Of God.”
“It feels good, better than I expected,” Hirst said when asked how he felt to be destroying the works.