Damien Hirst Accused of Misdating Thousands of Paintings

A new report suggests at least 1,000 of the British artist's iconic dot paintings were actually mass-produced years later than claimed.

May 23, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Damien Hirst with paintings from his NFT art project The Currency. Source: Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.


Never one to shy away from controversy, the British contemporary artist Damien Hirst is making waves yet again—this time for allegedly backdating his artworks. A recent investigation claims that at least 1,000 of the 10,000 dot paintings used in Hirst’s NFT art project The Currency were actually mass-produced years later than advertised.


The Currency: Physical vs. Digital Art

One of 10,000 dot paintings from The Currency by Damien Hirst. Source: HENI NFT.


Damien Hirst launched his first NFT art project, The Currency, in 2021. The experimental participatory project pit traditional painting against non-fungible tokens. For around $2,000 each, Hirst sold 10,000 mass-market versions of his iconic dot paintings—all A4-sized, multicolored, inscribed with the date 2016, and verified with a stamp of authenticity and the artist’s signature. The twist was that buyers were forced to choose between acquiring a physical painting or its blockchain-based digital equivalent. The unchosen option would be permanently destroyed.


The Currency controversially explores the crossover between art and money in the 21st century. The project quickly sold out upon release, generating nearly $90 million for Damien Hirst. Just over 5,000 buyers chose to take home a physical painting. Nearly 4,000 buyers selected the NFT version, knowingly triggering the destruction of the corresponding physical painting. Hirst kept 1,000 paintings for himself, but only in NFT form. As promised, in October 2022, Damien Hirst and his team burned almost half of the 10,000 paintings from The Currency in a theatrical Instagram livestream.


Sources Claim Damien Hirst Misrepresented Paintings

Damien Hirst burned his paintings in an October 2022 livestream. Source: Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.


According to Heni NFT, the authorized seller of The Currency paintings, “The physical artworks were created by hand in 2016 using enamel paint on handmade paper.” However, five anonymous sources told The Guardian that many of these dot paintings were actually mass-produced in 2018 and 2019. These sources were confirmed to be either familiar with or personally involved in the creation process. According to the sources, at least 1,000 and possibly several thousand of the dot paintings in The Currency series were not created in 2016. In 2018 and 2019, dozens of hired painters in two of Damien Hirst‘s studios—one in Gloucestershire and one in London—allegedly worked on the paintings in what was described as a “Henry Ford production line.”

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Dates Refer to Conception, Not Production, Says Hirst

Paintings from The Currency dated 2016. Source: Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.


Damien Hirst’s multicolored dots are among the most recognizable motifs in contemporary art. He first began exhibiting large dot paintings in the 1980s. In 2016, Hirst conceptualized the miniature mass-market version of the dots motif for The Currency, starting with a just a few hundred paintings. Hirst explained, “When I looked at [the paintings] I thought they are kind of unique but they all look the same; they are handmade so they look like a print but they are not a print. And then I thought, ‘What if I made these and then treated it like money?’” The NFT component of The Currency, as well as the final count of 10,000, were conceptualized later.


Lawyers representing Hirst did not outright deny claims that the artist backdated his work. Rather, they explained that Hirst’s process of dating The Currency was not intentionally misleading or commercially driven. Rather, it matches the artist’s “usual approach” and aligns with standard practice for conceptual art. Hirst maintains that a physical artwork in a conceptual project should be dated with the year of the project’s conception, not the date of the individual object’s creation. Hirst used a similar defense earlier this year when some of his formaldehyde sculptures dated to the 1990s were found to have been made in 2017.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.