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Hirst First: Bypassing Dealers with Direct-to-Sotheby’s Sale of New Work

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Damien Hirst with “The Golden Calf”
© Damien Hirst. Photo: Prudence Cumming

Less powerful, less high-profile artists might not get away with it, but Damien Hirst has just dealt a body blow to the gallery system. What’s more, his New York and London galleries (Gagosian, White Cube) are going along with it, even to the extent of supplying supportive comments for Sotheby’s press release.

The artist-provocateur is consigning directly to Sotheby’s, London, an as yet undisclosed number of new works (created within the last two years), for a two-day auction, Sept. 15-16, that’s been given its own Hirstian title: “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever.”

This bit of performance art will “document the full breadth of the artist’s creative output,” according to the press release, but the only lot announced thus far is “The Golden Calf” (above), a formaldehyde-sotted bull crowned with a solid gold disc, estimated to bring £8-12 million. Why not just call it, “Hedge Funder’s Trophy”? (Don’t get me wrong: I greatly admire Hirst’s work, unlike that of another megabucks artist who logically could be next in line to create his own auction line—the Buyer’s Premium Series?)

Although Sotheby’s clinched this coup, Christie’s certainly isn’t averse to being an artists’ best friend. When I did my Tricks of the Auction Trade piece a year ago for the Wall Street Journal, I quoted Marc Porter, Christie’s president, expressing receptivity to the notion of artists’ direct consignments: “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if artists demanded numerous channels of distribution for their own work,” he then told me.

Whatever happens, this Hirst First (different in both scope and character from his 2004 Pharmacy auction at Sotheby’s) could well mark a sea change from the hegemony of the paternalistic gallery system to an artists-doing-it-for-themselves alternative. Hirst said it best:

It’s a very democratic way to sell art and it feels like a natural evolution for contemporary art. Although there is risk involved, I embrace the challenge of selling my work in this way. I never want to stop working with my galleries. This is different. The world’s changing. Ultimately, I need to see where this road leads.

Gagosian, the New York gallery, gave this bull-inspired statement to Sotheby’s for journalistic consumption:

As Damien’s long-term gallery, we’ve come to expect the unexpected. He can certainly count on us to be in the room with paddle in hand.

But Larry, will that hand be in your lap or in the air?

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