KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- British art provocateur Damien Hirst will mount the largest exhibition ever of his trademark fish skeletons, skull paintings and dead animals in a major show in Ukraine's capital.
One of the world's most famous and commercially successful contemporary artists, Hirst plans a show in Kiev that will feature a retrospective of more than 100 sculptures and installations made since 1990 as well as a collection of oil paintings, most of which have never been exhibited.
The artist says he chose Ukraine as the host of his exhibit because of this ex-Soviet republic's newly discovered interest in contemporary art.
"I've always thought that museums are for dead artists and I kind of was afraid of that," he told The Associated Press Television News. "But I think because in Ukraine the audience is so new — to contemporary art at least — that makes it exciting, that makes me wanna do it."
The most successful of the so-called "Young British Artists," Hirst rose to prominence in the 1990s. One of his main themes is the impossibility of accepting mortality, and he is famous for flirting with the topic of death by displaying pickled animals, rotting cows' heads and diamond-encrusted skulls.
Last year, he defied skeptics and the global economic downturn and sold his works for close to $200 million at Sotheby's, making it the most expensive auction of works by a single artist.
He says his obsession with death and demise is his way of exploring a subject that most people cannot come to terms with. Asked about the symbolism of a metal statue of a pain-stricken man without skin, Hirst, sporting an image of a skull and crossbones on the back pocket of his jeans, said: "It means we are here for a good time, not a long time."
Hirst said he first tried painting when he was 16, but he never really liked his efforts in that medium and switched to sculpture.
But in recent years, he has taken up oil painting again and one of those works — "Requiem," which features a gloomy splattering of roses and butterflies on a dark background — gave the title to the entire Kiev show.
Other paintings feature skulls and white dots, which Hirst compared to pills producing a drug overdose, and butterflies.
He said some people may like the show, others not. But he hopes they won't quickly forget it. "I hope it will make people think," he said. "I hope that people coming to the exhibition will go away with more than they came with."
The exhibit, which opens Saturday, is sponsored by Viktor Pinchuk, a billionaire steel magnate, philanthropist and avid Hirst collector.
The works will go on display at the Pinchuk Art Center in downtown Kiev. Pinchuk's foundation declined to say how much money it spend on organizing the show and ferrying many of Hirst's works from private collections to Kiev.
The show will be free of charge to visitors and will run through September.
Pinchuk's other charity projects include bringing the band Queen to Ukraine for an anti-AIDS charity concert and paying several million dollars to free 20 crew members of a Ukrainian ship who spent more than three months held captive by Somali pirates.
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