Damien Hirst Screws Himself – artmarketblog.com

Damien Hirst Screws Himself – artmarketblog.com

On the 15th and 16th of September a total of 223 previously unsold works by Damien Hirst will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s. The collection consists mainly of different versions of Hirst’s most iconic concepts including versions of his spot paintings, spin paintings, butterfly paintings, medicine cabinets, formaldehyde works and photo realist paintings.

In continuation from my previous post on this auction I have conducted some further research on Damien Hirst and the market for his work which resulted in some rather interesting results. The online art auction result database Artprice.com lists a total of 1013 Damien Hirst works sold at auction since 1992, 169 of which were auctioned in 2007 which means that the Sotheby’s auction of 223 Damien Hirst works will account for more than a years worth of auction results. Comparatively, Jeff Koons, who is 10 years Damien’s senior, only has 524 auction recorded auction results since 1991.

The fact that Hirst has made the decision to sell at auction partly because the commission rates charged by an auction house are lower than those charged by most galleries suggests that his motivation is mostly, if not purely, financial. Although the demand for Hirst’s work is very high there are already plenty of works on the market due to the huge number of works that Hirst produces. This makes me wonder how many people will be buying from this auction purely because of the nature of the sale as opposed to the quality, price or attraction of the work on offer. I would say probably lots. If there are lots of people buying purely as a result of the nature of the sale then this could result in people buying works from this auction at inflated prices created by a false perception of scarcity and immediacy created by Sothebys when in fact there are already plenty of Hirst works available for sale elsewhere.

There are basically two different outcomes for this auction both of which I perceive as being potentially detrimental to Hirst’s career. Firstly, a successful sale where a majority of the works are sold for above estimate will result in a glut of Damien Hirst works being thrust onto the market which could well result in the demand and desirability Hirst’s work to drop due to the availability of works increasing dramatically. The effect that the sale of these works will have on the market for Hirst’s work depends on how many people are purchasing with the intention of on-selling within a short period of time. Scenario number two is that the sale goes terribly which would of course result in Hirst’s reputation and value dropping.

To be continued….

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

11 Responses

  1. lalalalala

  2. Despite introducing a large number of works at auction in September, I believe that Hirst’s work and reputation are such that it will be a well recieved sale. Furthermore, selling at various galleries, apart from charging a higher commision, would not have the same impact in terms of media attention. Putting up a almost 250 pieces of art for sale within a short time at the high profile Southeby house and likely making a mint will generate enough media buzz to have Damien Hirst’s name mentioned in newspapers, t.v., radio and blogs all over the world. Personally, I’m ecstatic if I sell a piece for $200 Canadian, but then again, I’m not selling medicine cabinets!

  3. I am with you Nicholas, I thinj he is screwing himself.
    But i’m not so sure about a flop auction result because of the crazyness that still is going on the high end of the contemporary market.

    One thing is clear to me, this direct auction represents more risks than rewards, despite the fact that Hirst will receive much more in net terms.

  4. Hi Marinko,
    I think that the sale will be well received to but I am more concerned about the effects that a well received sale will have on the amount of Hirst works on the market purchased by people looking to make a quick buck


  5. Hi Luis,

    Although I do not think that a flop result is likely I do think that is a distinct possibility considering the level of caution that seems to be creeping into the market of late


  6. I believe that regardless of the success of the auction, by cutting out the gallery, Hirst is completely writing new rules for the contemporary art market. Operating in this fashion in such a ‘consumerist’ society, could almost be seen as an artistic response to the zeitgeist. In doing so, he is securing himself (even more so) a place in the annals of art history, and thus securing his prices.

    Does anyone agree with this? That the outcome of this auction is almost irrelevant, but what this affair represents is the relevant issue?

  7. There’s a scenario 3 too Nick. The sale goes pretty well, with most pieces meeting expectations but with many others being picked up at (comparative) bargain prices (there are no reserves on any of the works apparently). Those who get a bargain aren’t going to complain, and those who pay slightly over the odds get a piece of art history.
    There are so many thousands of Hirst’s works already out there – a situation that doesn’t dilute the value of his work. Nothing seems to dent the guy’s value, he’s bomb-proof and everyone wants a piece. A risk-taker who’s pushing the bourndaries for sure, but Hirst isn’t going to collapse whatever the result at Sotheby’s.

  8. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the reply. The value of Hirst’s work is being propped up by media hype, controversy and many other inflationary factors. I agree that the auction will probably go well but the future value of Hirst’s work is in serious jeopardy. He may seem indestructible now but when people start becoming more cautious and looking for value, Hirst’s work will be one of the most likely to end up a casualty.


  9. I don’t doubt that Hirst will make history with this auction, despite the results he might achieve .

    The problem is that the market is now with perfect knowledge about what is going on about the large quantity of works in stock and without a clear buyer.
    And that sounds bad in a case like Hirst that is a top artist…

    I know Hirst is seen like a “must have” but I again don’t doubt that this crazy market is more than able to cut his “legs” in a second. Market gives market takes!

    There is too much ilusion and irrationality going on.

    I don’t believe too much in all this buzz !! It’s just a question of when…

  10. Hi Luis,

    In what way will Hirst make history? He is not the first artist to sell art directly to auction in fact it is not the first time that Hirst has sold art directly to auction.

    Your comments regarding the illusion and irrationality are, however, spot on!!


  11. Nick,

    You’re right. It’s not the first time that a direct auction occurs but the art market never saw a direct auction of 223 pieces in a row. All from the same (and top)artist.

    So, may very well be historic in a way that is openning roads to other artists like Murakami do the same and changing the system primary/secondary but I´m not sure this kind of decisions are good to their carreers and to their collectors. Like MAO wisely said I would be very worried in the case of the last ones.

    All the people is saying that the auction will be a great success so maybe I’m being just too pessimist, but to me – just a young art enthusiast – the catalogue viewing didn´t cause the expectable desire of purchasing (despite some nice works, of course). This feeling is certainly very personal and subjective, but I imagine that more collectors may have had quite the same reaction. And that is just not good.

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