The Mermaid


Tide Square, London, SE10

View on Google Maps

By Damien Hirst

The second sculpture from Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable exhibition is The Mermaid. The bronze of a familiar mythical figure first exhibited at the 2017 Venice Biennale. 

For the ancients, water was the element that symbolised divinatory power, prophetic ability and inspiration. This sculpture likely relates to the myths that sprung up around Alexander the Great in the millennia following his death in 323 BCE.

The 'Alexander Romance’ includes the story of a mermaid who stops ships at sea to ask the question ‘Does King Alexander live?’ - a reference to the King's legend rather than his mortal body. If the answer is ‘yes’, she allows the sailors safe passage, singing exquisitely as she does so. If no, she falls into a rage, her appearance becoming monstrous, before she sinks the ship and its crew, leaving no trace. 

I think The Mermaid represents the gullibility of the collector. He was gullible in his ideas, in his tastes. The whole idea that the collection disappeared without a trace, and all his treasures were lost, his dream was futile – it speaks to everyone's successes and failures. Maybe the mermaid sums that up more than the other works.

Located at the heart of The Tide overlooking the River Thames, The Mermaid is one of six public pieces from Damien Hirst at Greenwich Peninsula.