Damien Hirst

Lambda and Theta Appeal at Hirst Auction

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Following up this post: Amidst the financial chaos earlier this week, Damien Hirst managed to bring in £111 million for his latest collection at auction. He smashed Sotheby’s previous record for a collection of work by a single artist, held by a Piccasso collection that sold for $20 million in 1993.

I think the desire to own a Hirst piece can be understood through the lens of either a Lambda or Theta worldview. Lambdas seek achievement and uniqueness as their end goal. Hirst’s signature pieces, the animals in formaldehyde, are nothing if not unique, appealing to Lambda sensibilities.

However, it’s interesting to note that 5 of the 223 pieces in the auction did not sell. The reason? They weren’t immediately recognizable as pieces by Damien Hirst (one example: ‘Killing Time,’ a plastic box filled with a desk, office chair, pills and a watch). This suggests that the people buying these pieces were seeking this ‘obviously by Hirst’ quality; they’re using their purchase to fit in and enhance their status among their peers, which is typical Theta behavior.

Whether the purchasers were Lambdas or Thetas, I do wonder if they’ll still feel their purchases were worthwhile in a few months’ time as uncertainty in global financial markets continues.

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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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A crystal toilet for a mere $75,000

Isaac Mostovicz writes...


Having recently spotted a diamond-encrusted skull (Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God) and a diamond-encrusted Mercedes-Benz (with diamond-encrusted gear shift), this Swarovski crystal-encrusted toilet seems almost common. Almost.

With 50,000 hand-set crystals, it’s one way to bring a little (rather a lot of) sparkle and shine into your bathroom. But the creation, from Jemal Wright‘s Isis Collection, “only” costs $75,000. It isn’t as though this thing is covered with diamonds. But what if it were?

Recently Rapaport held an auction of certified diamonds, with prices per diamond ranging from under $4,000 to $12,000. If we to cover such a commode with 50,000 diamonds costing an average of $6,000, we’d have a toilet costing $300 million in diamonds alone. Damien Hirst’s skull only sold (reportedly) for $100 million.

If ‘For the Love of God’ juxtaposes mortality and eternity, what would a diamond-encrusted toilet mean?

[via Born Rich via This Old House]

Luxus says of this article...

It is a very special piece. But I won’t use it for the things it is for.

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Skull for Sale Anyone?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...


An update to this post–Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, the diamond-encrusted skull that juxtaposes mortality and eternity,  recently sold to an unnamed investment group for its asking price of $100 million.

Hirst reportedly kept a share of the piece himself to ensure that it gets displayed. The UK’s Independent is skeptical that it actually reached the asking price, with sources remarking that it’s notoriously difficult to know the specifics of private art sales and that sales talks had previously stalled at £38 million ($76 million).

According to Richard Polsky, a California art dealer:

This is all about investment, not about art collecting. This sale keeps Hirst in the news, reinforces the demand for his work and makes everyone who spent money at the White Cube feel good about their investment.

When the value of a piece is as astronomical as For the Love of God, does the focus necessarily have to shift from art to investment?

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The ‘Thisness’ of the Diamond Skull

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Damien Hirst’s skull, entitled ‘For the Love of God’ is supposed to evoke a sense of our own mortality – in contrast to the eternity that diamonds endure.

Does it do that? Is it beautiful? Is it macabre? Is it luxury?


Beyond its simple juxtaposition of mortality and eternity – its evocation of the transience of life – the skull can also be a reminder of the fundamental ‘thisness’ of life.

While diamonds and human beings are made of exactly the same stuff at an atomic level – carbon – we are moulded rather differently. Thinking about it though, each diamond also has its own ‘thisness’, a product of both its growth over billions of years and the process of its polishing. No two diamonds ever have exactly the same facet ratios and characteristics.

Hirst’s use of these diamonds expresses his own thisness, and also the thisness of diamonds themselves….

Food for thought?

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