Black Brilliant Utopia is an inkjet, glaze, and foil block print from Damien Hirst’s Utopia series from 2013. The print shows several rows of pills on display in a medical cabinet, rendered in a cropped composition and in high contrast. This exact image is repeated five times across the Utopia series, each rendered in different contrast levels and two in more extreme cropped compositions.
Hirst had experimented with medical pill iconography as early as the 1980s where he made tiny incisions into a series of monochrome paintings to accommodate real pills. Another earlier and prominent body of work that pre-empted Hirst’s first pill cabinet work was his Pharmacy installation from 1992. Hirst’s Utopia series encapsulates this trajectory and the fascination with medicine that has endured throughout the artist’s career.
The pills displayed on the shelves appear like little minimalist sculptures and indeed, Hirst has likened the pharmacy to a model of minimalist order that expels fears of death and decay. Hirst has explained why he makes this comparison between medical pills and packaging to minimalism, noting a comparison to the work of Sol Le Witt and Donald Judd: “They’re not flamboyant are they? They’re not allowed to sell themselves, except in a very clinical way. Which starts to become funny.”