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A continuation to Renate Bertlmann´s installation, 'Discordo Ergo Sum‘ ('I dissent, therefore I am‘); which consisted of 312 glass roses, at the Austrian Pavilion. The Austria avant-garde artists; Renate Bertlmann was the first female solo artist, representing the Austrian Pavillion at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.

The focal point of Bertlmann´s practice lays within the playground of gender and social issues, as can be seen in Knife-rose, an edition of 50 hand-blown Murano glass roses. The flaming and voluptuous red rose may be inviting, but from its core a sharp knife penetrates its petals and is ready to defend itself, awaiting an attack.

Born in Vienna in 1943, Bertlmann is an Austrian feminist avant-garde artist, living and working in Vienna. Since the early 1970s, she has focused on the ambivalence of the feminine and masculine relationship, issuing complex and contradictory themes with dark humor and wit. With her work, the Austrian artist has challenged many controversial topics like the role that society places on women, phallocentrism, sexism, often using her own body as an artistic medium.

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“One way I found to deal with this was to use the phallus as a weapon; I used irony as a dissociation device, which helped me to have a fearless approach in the form of the phallic caricatures.” -Renate Bertlmann


Knife-rose
, 2019
Murano glass and metal, protected by acrylic case
Edition of 50, plus 20 APs
50 x 11 x 11 cm (19.6 x 4.3 x 4.3 in.)
In Mint condition
Signed and dated
Link to the edition entry here

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However in the recent past Bertlmann has been growing in popularity in Europe and USA, with her work appearing at the Tate Modern’s ‘The World Goes Pop’ exhibition, her exhibition at Independent 2019 in New York, her show in a full year of 100 percent women artists presented by Richard Saltoun in London. Finally her invitation to represent Austria in Venice Biennale 2019, which marks the first time in the history of Austria’s participation in the Venice Biennale that a female artist puts on a solo presentation at the Pavilion.

For the Biennale, Renate Bertlmann has conceived a two-part installation characterized by either formal and conceptual precision. Based on the artist’s programmatic axiom, Amo Ergo Sum, the exhibition titled Discordo Ergo Sum, is characterized by a huge piece in front of the Pavilion and the 312 knife-roses, each of them hand-blown in Murano, installation in the pavilion’s back courtyard. It focuses on the dichotomy of human existence subverting social symbols.

“I am happy about my wonderful task to design the Austrian Pavilion in Venice. Radical contents and aesthetics and a willingness to take risks are the main pillars of my artistic work. My visions, which have carried me for fifty years, will therefore also find an authentic expression in this place.”

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With his work For the Love of God, Damien Hirst made the ultimate vanitas, a replica of the skull of a thirty-five-year-old man from the thirteenth century. Hirst covered the skull in platinum, set 8601 diamonds into it, and inserted a 52.4-carat diamond into the forehead. Created by the artist in 2007, this totem offered to God is a true icon and it broke all records by becoming the most expensive contemporary artwork in the world.

"Immortality is really desirable, I guess. In terms of images, anyway."
Damien Hirst

The ambivalence of the message is apparent – a diamond-encrusted skull maybe just a ridiculed, conceited attempt to triumph over death.

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Despite the ambiguity of the concept, the artist examines our natural desire for immortality in a playful manner, as exemplified in The Hours Spin Skull. The sculpture acts as a reminder that our existence on earth is transitory. The skull, whose eye sockets are inlaid with watch dials, reminds us of the impermanence of life and it invites and encourages us to meditate on the existential.

“I’ve got an obsession with death … But I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid.”—Damien Hirst

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For Hirst, the butterfly is a symbol of beauty and fragility because of the appearance of life it holds in death and because of the traditional association of butterflies with the spiritual realm.

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In the Butterfly series, the artist, as a meticulous collector, depicts colourful dead Butterflies displayed against a contrasting black background. The artwork was inspired by a pursuit typical in Victorian times – butterfly collecting – a popular educational hobby for gentlemen and clergy.

"Everyone’s frightened of glass, everyone’s frightened of sharks, everyone loves butterflies."—Damien Hirst

Again, adopting the mantle of a collector, the artist has created large collage gloss paintings featuring butterfly wings, which are part of the Psalm series. These, as with his other works, aim to capture the beauty and to grasp and fix the ephemeral. Yet, the works conceal the strict relationship between beauty and death.

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In Paper Kite Butterfly on Oleander, Hirst features his signature motif – the butterfly – alive in its natural surroundings, hanging from a beautiful, strikingly coloured blossom. In this, he has created an uplifting and celestial image that inspires childlike wonder in the face of such a beauty of nature. At the same time, however, it provokes fundamental questions about the meaning of life, a life which is characterized by death, and the fragility of biological existence.

“I love butterflies because when they are dead they look alive."—Damien Hirst

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The distinction between life and death, myth and medicine, is explored by the Cabinet series, as they serve as a shrine to modern pharmaceuticals.

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There is no imminent promise of salvation, no escape offered in these works. Those black pills, as in Dark Black Heaven, are as threatening as they are strangely attractive, a dark fatal allure which we already know leads to one ultimate destiny.

Hirst’s work questions the equivocal role of medicine. It can either take life and save life or destroy and restore. These pills are not a memento mori like the skulls or the butterflies. They are a symbol of resignation and alienation from life, and a fatal attraction towards death.

"It’s like God should be, the way they sell you the pills, the forms, the utopia, the hope, the cure. We’ve come a long way since quack doctors."—Damien Hirst

The pharmaceutical cabinets, as in Hirst’s work Utopia, question people´s complete reliance on medications and their power to heal, which fulfill the natural desire for immortality. However, the question is: Can drugs cure this problem, or can art?

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On the other hand, Gold tears, which is part of the Utopia series, depicts rows of shiny diamonds on shelves covered with golden foil in front of a golden-beige background. The image is an intense vision of a golden cabinet filled with diamonds, a vision often associated with glorious eternity. But as always in Hirst’s art, the ambiguity is obvious – this cabinet points to the fact that behind all the shiny glittery surfaces there might be nothing, no meaning, and no soul. And hence the desire for eternity is less a promise than a condemnation.

"I can’t understand why most people believe in medicine and don’t believe in art, without questioning either."—Damien Hirst

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