Sotheby’s Stands Tall With Hirst

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The New York Sun

Although the world’s capital markets were in a tailspin, a potent combination of formaldehyde, butterflies, and skulls in London kept the market for art by Damien Hirst as strong as ever. Sotheby’s auction of the celebrity artist’s new works smashed sales records yesterday.

The evening sale portion of Mr. Hirst’s “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” collection at Sotheby’s headquarters established a new auction record for a single work: “The Golden Calf,” an enormous bull calf encased in a silicone and formaldehyde solution, sold for $18.66 million.

RELATED: Damien Hirst’s Shark at the Met (video).

No other auction in recent memory has been so ballyhooed by its consignor; that is to say, Mr. Hirst himself. Nor has the sale been so closely scrutinized by the movers and shakers of the international art community. The artist’s decision to hold a public auction of his new works was a bold challenge to an entrenched system of representation of artists by prominent art dealers.

The strategy has appeared to pay off. Some 21,000 people viewed the Hirst exhibition, an attendance record for Sotheby’s. And yesterday, the firm sold all 700 tickets for spots in its salesroom. “I think the market is bigger than anyone knows,” Mr. Hirst reportedly said. “I love art, and this proves I’m not alone.”

According to the chief executive officer and founder of the art information service, Moti Shniberg: “Damien Hirst used the same strategy Google did in its initial public offering: Google auctioned its shares directly to the public instead of going the traditional placement route. In any case, it worked for Google and it worked for Hirst, too.”

The 56 lots offered in last evening’s sale sold for a total of more than $127 million. Sotheby’s had placed a pre-sale estimate of $62.4 million on those lots. Another 167 lots will hit the block at the two related sales in London today. Sotheby’s estimated that all 223 works by Mr. Hirst would achieve about $98.62 million in sales.

Two lots in the evening sale sold for more than $10 million each, and four lots sold for more than $5 million each. A total of 37 lots each surpassed the $1 million mark, according to Sotheby’s. “Genius applies not only to the art Damien Hirst makes, but also to his ability to connect to the market of global art buyers,” Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, Tobias Meyer, said. “His collection for this sale was so superb that it transcended concerns that he could sell it this way.”

Mr. Hirst told a Sotheby’s specialist in June that although a previous auction of his work, “Pharmacy,” surpassed sales expectations at the time, the 2004 sale did not necessarily ensure his success with “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever.”

“I mean it’s risky, because it could all go wrong,” Mr. Hirst said, referring to his sales strategy. “I think it takes a bit of courage, or madness, to get to the point where you just cut out the galleries and take the whole load of box-fresh pieces straight to the market, no strings, highest bidder wins.”

To be sure, Mr. Meyer told the Sun after the sale that the “Pharmacy” auction helped establish trust between the auction house and Mr. Hirst to such an extent that it was what influenced his decision to move forward with the “Beautiful” auction at Sotheby’s.

Other recent formaldehyde-themed works by Mr. Hirst sold remarkably well last evening. “The Kingdom,” a tiger shark encased in a glass and steel case, sold for $17.25 million, more than double Sotheby’s estimate. “The Black Sheep with Golden Horn,” estimated to sell for $3 million, brought in $4.72 million last evening.

Also selling for more than double its auction estimate was “Memories of/Moments With You,” a gold-plated steel and glass display with manufactured diamonds, which fetched $4.72 million last evening. “Fragments of Paradise,” estimated at $1.5 million, sold for $9.37 million.

His “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” which Sotheby’s estimated would fetch $3.5 million, sold for $5.33 million. In all, three-quarters of the lots sold for prices exceeding their high estimates.

The New York Sun

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