The art world is currently obsessing over Damien Hirst’s Sotheby’s sale in London (September 15 and 16). Don’t they auction his work all the time?
Apart from a (rumored) sale of some contemporary Chinese art, it’s the first time an artist is selling work directly from his studio through an auction house. And this is 223 lots, estimated at over $115 million.
Can’t he just sell through his dealers?
Hirst has always done things his own way, and he seems to want a wider audience, especially collectors from the emerging markets of Russia, Asia, the Gulf states, and India. He has also created so much work that he needs to find new ways to sell it.
Hirst is the guy who sticks animals in formaldehyde, right? Is he all about shocking people?
Not all of his work is about death and decay. His “spot” paintings are simply about beauty. “The good thing is that they’re fucking gorgeous,” Hirst once said in an interview with Gordon Burn. “They’re as good as flowers, and they’re just paintings.”
But he doesn’t even do those himself. And aren’t there hundreds of them?
Some estimates run to 1,000, but no two are alike. And his use of assistants to produce them hasn’t turned anyone off to them yet. Besides, Hirst has noted, “You can make an exact copy of the Mona Lisa. You can make a copy better. But it’s not the Mona Lisa.” Before you think he’s comparing himself to Leonardo da Vinci, what he’s saying is that the idea and imagination behind the art are more important than the hands that create the painting.
But is Hirst’s art important?
Well, he creates images that last and define our era’s art, like The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991)—the shark in formaldehyde that’s at the Met. To his detractors, he’s a symbol of the baffling contemporary-art market.
Twelve million dollars for a dead shark in a tank does seem a little mysterious. I’ve heard that Hirst is the most valuable living artist.
Jeff Koons, Lucian Freud, and Hirst have been passing around that title over the past year. Hirst is unabashed about his view of money. “I find that aspect of the work part of its life,” he told Burn. “If the art’s about life and then people pay money for it and it becomes a commodity and manages to still stay art, I find that really exciting.” He caused a stir last month when his company, Science Ltd., released a statement saying that this would be the last year he produces “spin” paintings, as well as his butterflies and medicine cabinets. Dealers and collectors were relieved to hear that, because they worry about glutting the market. Then again, Hirst usually starts another series as soon as he finishes the last one.
I saw an interview on the Sotheby’s Website in which Hirst said he’s working on a spot painting that will take him twenty years to finish.
Which is funny, since we know he doesn’t do them himself.