Immediate Appreciation: Hirst Goes to the Auction House

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

We’ve seen Damien Hirst challenge convention (and notions of connoisseurship) in the art world before with his diamond skull. For his newest project, he’s not just creating controversial art–he’s also challenging contemporary art’s business model.

It used to be that art dealers had a window of about five years to sell (and resell) a new piece of art, earning about a 50% commission on each sale, before auction houses would accept the pieces to sell. For his new collection, Damien Hirst is cutting out the middleman, selling all 223 pieces directly through Sotheby’s next week. The pieces are as bold as ever and include The Kingdom, an 8ft tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, and The Golden Calf, a life-sized bull with gold-plated hooves and horns also suspended in formaldehyde.

This auction is a very interesting move by Hirst; he’s probably one of the few artists (perhaps only artist) who could pull it off. He’s well enough established that connoisseurs know what they’re getting when they purchase one of his pieces without it floating around on the market for a while. Hirst also wants to collect more for pieces up front rather than have them appreciate:

From an article in the Times of London:

“The first time you sell something is when it should cost the most,” he says. “I’ve definitely had the goal to make the primary market more expensive.” He compares a Prada outlet and an Oxfam shop. Why, in the world of shoes, do you pay more for a new pair from Prada, while in the world of art, the big money kicks in only when the shoes get to Oxfam?

I think this is a fascinating comparison–however, one of the reasons that Prada shoes and other luxury goods sell for so much more new is that they do wear in ways that that artwork won’t–artwork can be appreciated in the same way whether it’s new or old, and generally time (or the passing of the artist) makes people appreciate the work even more. Though it’s funny that Hirst should make this comparison, as some of his formaldehyde works have actually worn in ways that traditional art wouldn’t and needed restoration.

If you’re in London, you can see the whole collection on show at Sotheby’s through September 15.

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