How Damien Hirst tried to transform the art market
Ahead of a Tate retrospective, Colin Gleadell sees how the maverick artist Damien Hirst has fought to ensure that he, rather than future buyers, makes the most money from his work.
n his television documentary The Mona Lisa Curse, the pugnacious and persuasive art critic Robert Hughes argued that traditional values which judge art by its quality have been overridden by marketing and hype, and that, in the present consumer culture, the only meaning left for art is a financial one. Perhaps today, the millions who visit museums do so in order to contemplate art’s financial rather than aesthetic values.
The artists Hughes singled out as being worth so much more than they merited were Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. So will people go to Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern to mull over the millions of pounds his art represents? The critics are likely to see the selection, which emphasises his early work, as supporting the view that Hirst had made his best, most original work by the latter half of the 1990s, and everything after that was repetition. But then, even if it has been a bit of a production line, it has been a very successful one, and so in itself a comment on consumer culture.
Warhol also addressed consumer culture, was repetitive, and employed factory workers to make his art, just as Hirst has done. But the difference is that Hirst has enjoyed far more commercial success than Warhol ever did.
Hirst is often cited as the richest artist in the UK, even in the world. In 2009, the Sunday Times Rich List assessed his wealth at £235 million. That may have been an understatement. In 2008, his business manager, Frank Dunphy, said Hirst was “a dollar billionaire”. Dunphy, an accountant who had worked with the artist since the mid-Nineties, was clearly proud of his achievement, turning Hirst from a potential drunken layabout into a number-one bankable asset, and a lot of interesting facts came out.
Hirst employed 160 staff making artworks for him at five studios in England. He owned dozens of properties from Mayfair to Mexico, including the £3 million Toddington Manor, where he planned to put his art collection – then worth about $400 million (£252 million) – including a self-portrait by Francis Bacon which he had bought in 2007 for £16 million. With thanks to the telegraph, read more
By Colin Gleadell
8:30AM GMT 21 Mar 2012
Category: Art News