In 2008 Damien Hirst stunned the art world by sidestepping his galleries to sell his works directly at auction. The auction “Beautiful Inside my Head Forever” was a financial mega-success, netting the artist and Sotheby’s upwards of $198 million—a record for a single-artist auction. It was an event made all the more remarkable for taking place on the exact same day the Lehman Brothers were wiped out. The moment when the financial markets went into melt down.
In those dark days after the financial crash many art world superstars suffered a serious blow, top-end auction prices dropped considerably. But while artists of a similar statue to Hirst such as Jeff Koons and Richard Prince quickly recovered, Hirst’s auction results seemed to be afflicted by the mother of all hangovers. Rumors abounded that Hirst’s auction was a step too far. The Independent Newspaper wondered if the “lustre (was) fading”, even the New York Times thought the “art-world darling of the 90s” had “jumped the shark.”
Of course there is no holding an artist of Damien Hirst’s exceptional talent down for long, and 10 years after that Sotheby’s sale considerable buzz is building around the artist once more. First came the announcement that he would exhibit work at this year’s Venice Biennale in the Pinault Collection’s two spaces—the first time both the Palazzo Grazzi and Punta della Dogana will be dedicated to a single artist. Hirst’s good friend François Pinault, the French luxury goods billionaire and owner of Christie’s, is a keen collector of his work.
The exhibition entitled “Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable” is believed to resemble artefacts pulled from the ocean floor, covered in coral. With excitement mounting, Hirst—who has been planning these shows for a decade—is keenly aware of the influence the early-Venice openings have on the art market.
On top of this his high-end prices at auction have begun to rise considerably, as noted by Artsy earlier this year. In October 2016 two of his paintings Salvation, 2003, strewn with butterflies and the other Damnation, 2004, strewn with flies, sold for the impressive amount of £665,000 and £485,000 respectively. Both to the shrewd L.A. dealer Stefan Simchowitz, who is convinced Hirst’s prices are set to go up.
Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, the artist rekindled his business relationship with mega-dealer Larry Gagosian last year after a five-year break. Having been represented by Gagosian for 17 years, Hirst’s decision in 2012 to move-on was a surprise, and precisely why they first parted company remains a matter of speculation. Recently Larry Gagosian has gone on record to say “It feels very fresh to me. I know a lot of collectors remain very, very interested in Damien and are extremely curious to see what he’s doing.” An equally buoyant Hirst has stated: “I share a long history with Larry and am pleased we are working together once again.”
The highly prolific and successful British artist is believed to be worth $350 million—a third of which came from the Sotheby’s auction. He is well known for his generous contributions to good causes and willingness to give something back to the art world. His Newport Street Gallery opened in London in 2015 to exhibit work from his vast £100 million art collection. With free admission, it was a great philanthropic venture from the artist, reminding us all that Hirst has always been a generous supporter of the arts in Britain and of his artist friends: “If you like their work and they need money, rather than loan them the money, you buy a piece.”
It seems that Damien Hirst is back where he belongs at the very top of the contemporary art world and as Gagosian eloquently states, “Take Damien Hirst out of contemporary art history, and there’s an incredible void. Great artists, like great people, have second acts.”