Live from London: Dissecting Damien Hirst’s Latest Antic

17Sep08

By Katie Enna

The head auctioneer taking bids in front of one of Hirst's spin paintings

Damien Hirst’s latest antic has been all the talk of the auction world this past week. His exhibition “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” and subsequent sale on Monday and Tuesday at Sotheby’s in London made auction history.

Historically auction houses have been secondary dealers, respecting the contemporary galleries who sell an artist’s new work. As the contemporary art market has taken off, such unspoken ground rules started to erode as Christie’s and Sotheby’s started to stretch the rules more to their liking and become more eager to get newer work in their sales.

Christie’s recent purchase of the Haunch of Venison dealt the first major blow to contemporary dealers; Sotheby’s took it a step further by cutting dealers out entirely by convincing Damien Hirst to sell new work through them, not through Gagosian or White Cube.

In anticipation of the auction, a Christie’s insider mentioned to me that the only way the auction wouldn’t spell disaster for the Sotheby’s rival would be if its results were mediocre. A poor result, he probably feared, would send a wave throughout the art world that the contemporary art market is finally slowing.

In the end, after all the speculation within both houses, the auction was a success. The evening sale’s total came to $127.2 million (including buyer’s premium), over the high estimate of $112 million.  Some fear this resounding success will flood the market. However, Damien Hirst is one of a handful of artists—or perhaps the only artist—that could pull this off. A brilliant artist and businessman, Hirst fundamentally knows how to market himself. He has used the gallery system to his advantage and has, through the support of Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling, emerged at the forefront of the contemporary art scene. Most artists will still depend on contemporary galleries to build their credibility and credentials; it will take a long time before collectors will trust the auction experts to deem a new artist worthy of investment.

Despite Christie’s fear of this success, there is a silver lining. This highly publicized auction reiterates the strength of the art market in the face of financial turmoil. The momentum of this auction will likely carry through to the fall auctions of contemporary art in New York, and this time both auction houses will be able to reap the rewards.

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4 Responses to “Live from London: Dissecting Damien Hirst’s Latest Antic”

  1. 1 artsetoile

    Brilliant analysis of the Damien Hirst question, bravo Katie!

  2. Right to the point of order of the here and now and insight into the possible to come… perhaps, it is a step to further opening audience minds to the essence of art being an experience personified into object form… a conversation between creator and audience with less translators may make it easier for investors and more galleries to support and invest in forwarding the work of more contemporary artist to alls benefit.

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