Damien Hirst has long been been a divisive figure in contemporary art. Some laud him for his boundary-pushing, eye-catching works, while others decry him as the enfant terrible of Brit art. 

Rising through the art ranks in the Nineties, Hirst became Brit Art’s most prominent figurehead, an internationally renowned artist, considered one of the most important of his generation. But for all the adulation, he is still just as likely to receive jibes of “that’s not art” or “I could have done that”. 

Make up your own mind as, for the first time, his work is collected in a career-spanning retrospective at Tate Modern, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. 

“Throughout his career, Hirst’s work has been experienced by the majority of people through the filter of photographic reproduction and headline reportage,” exhibition curator Ann Gallagher says. ”This exhibition will be an opportunity for everyone to examine the works first hand, and to appreciate why they became so iconic.”

Hirst’s work, which forged a path between art, science and popular culture, is marked by its diversity, and this exhibition reflects that. Installations, photography, paintings, sculpture and drawings are the tip of the iceberg for an artist whose work has featured a tiger shark and two bisected cows suspended in formaldyhyde (The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, 1991 and Mother And Child Divided, 1993) and included giant spots on a white canvass (Flumequine, 2007) and even a paint-by-numbers kit (Paint By Numbers, 2001). 

“We will be bringing together more than 70 works, including those he exhibited at Freeze in 1988, and the seminal sculptures from the early 1990s,” Gallagher says. 

Also on show will be important vitrines, such as A Thousand Years – a severed cow’s head, flies and a insect-o-cutor in a box representing the circle of life – and his medicine, pill and instrument cabinets. One particular highlight will be In And Out Of Love, a two-room installation featuring live butterflies, which hasn’t been shown in its entirety since its creation in 1991.

Taking pride of place in the new exhibition is Hirst’s For The Love Of God, a life-sized skull covered with 8601 diamonds, but which maintains the boney item’s original teeth. 

“Visitors will be given the chance to view it as an independent exhibit or as a culmination of many of the themes revealed in the exhibition,” Gallagher reveals of Hirst’s recent eye-catching work. Shown in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, it will be the first time in more than five years that the work has been exhibited on British soil. 

So what does Hirst himself make of it all? In Damien Hirst, a new book that accompanies the exhibition, he says: “I’ve always felt the responsibility is on the viewer, not the artist. You trick them into thinking you’re telling them something, but you’re revealing something that they already have.”

So take the chance to be tricked by or simply sneer at art Tracey Emin rates as being up there with Andy Warhol’s.