Walsall's New Art Gallery hosting Damien Hirst exhibition

It’s his most iconic work. And now Damien Hirst’s infamous lamb suspended in formaldehyde has arrived in the Black Country.

The controversial artwork is one of 13 pieces in an exhibition expected to bring record crowds to The New Art Gallery Walsall.

The collection goes on show tomorrow – the first year-long display of work by Hirst outside of London.

Gallery bosses today said it was “a very big deal” for the venue.

Director Stephen Snoddy said: “Damien Hirst is one of the best living artists in the world, he is a brand name. He’s the David Beckham of the art world.

“It is brilliant for us to have this and it was a competitive bid to the Tate to get it.

“Hirst is such a brand name and a big name and we know our attendance figures are going to go up.”

The Hirst collection, part of the Artist Rooms tour, is at the Gallery Square venue until October 27, 2013 with 11 artworks by the artist and two special wallpapers.

Mr Snoddy said: “I think what will happen is there will be a lot of people from a 40-mile radius of Walsall and beyond who will come here.

“For many, if will be their first visit and we know there’s a good chance if they come a first time, they’ll come back.

“We normally get an average of 3,300 visitors here a week. It will be interesting to see what the figure is for the first full week.

“We’re expecting the footfall to be very good so it will be good for the gallery and good for the town.”

It has taken 18 months of planning to bring the artwork to the £21 million gallery, starting with a competitive bidding process to bosses at the Tate Modern in London.

Now, after the logistics of getting the art in place, building new walls and incorporating it with the existing artwork, the wraps are poised to come off.

Away from the Flock, Hirst’s 1994 work of a sheep suspended in formaldehyde, is centrepiece of the display on floor one.

One of Hirst’s most recognisable and influential works, it is expected to be the one people come and stand and look at the most.

For Mr Snoddy, the more people that come, the better. “Away From the Flock will probably be on the one people will stand and look at the most,” he said. “But I think everyone needs to come and see them in real life before giving their opinion on them.

“People will really begin to see the beauty in the work. For example, Damien Hirst’s butterflies paintings are so amazingly beautiful. When these pieces are reproduced in magazines and books and catalogues there can be critics but it doesn’t really look as it does in the flesh.

“Many people will be seeing the work for the first time in the flesh and I think they’ll be surprised at how real and beautiful it all is.” Hirst’s work has been interwoven with that of Jacob Epstein, whose work the gallery holds a large collection of.

Both artists share similar themes of religion, science, love and death.

London’s Tate Modern recently hosted Hirst’s work and had their most visited solo show – attracting 3,000 visitors a day.

Walsall Council leisure chief Anthony Harris said: “It really is an opportunity to put the New Art Gallery and Walsall on the map- both nationally and internationally.

“We expect art enthusiasts from across the globe to visit the exhibition here in Walsall but it also presents a chance for local people here in Walsall to view art which is normally only on display in London.

“We want local residents to come and take a look for themselves and to see what else the Art Gallery has to offer.”