Damien Hirst thirst rakes in £70m at Sotheby’s auction

September 16th, 2008 - 9:34 am ICT by IANS  

ChelseaLondon, Sep 16 (IANS) Monday saw global investment giant Lehmann Brothers file for bankruptcy, but by night there wasn’t even a whiff of the credit crunch at Sotheby’s in London where a staggering £70-odd million was spent in a matter of minutes to snap up the works of artist Damien Hirst whose works were recently exhibited in New Delhi to mixed reviews.Records tumbled and the world woke up to a new style of auctioning art as 56 lots were sold on the first day. Another 167 works will go under the hammer Tuesday night, with bets on how far beyond the billion mark would the total sale go.

The Bristol-born artist’s The Golden Calf, a sculpture of a bullock in formaldehyde, with hooves and horns cast in solid 18-carat gold, went under the hammer for a record £10.3m. The previous auction record for a work by Hirst was £9.7m.

Hirst’s creations beat their combined expected sale price of £65m. The first day raked in £70.5 million.

Hirst’s decision to take his 223 works, completed in under two years, straight to auction, bypassing the gallery owners and dealers who normally take a hefty commission, was watched closely by the art world amid concerns that money rather than art will dominate the market from now on.

The profit from most of the works sold will go straight into Hirst’s pocket, because buyers’ premiums are charged separately and Sotheby’s has waived its auction fees. It is the first time an artist of Hirst’s stature has bypassed his usual dealer and gallery and sold his works directly to the public.

The event was strictly all-ticket and limited to 656 clients, arguably making a mockery of Hirst’s attempt to “democratize” the sale of his artwork. But this was not just history in the making, it was also theatrical spectacle. The sale room in New Bond Street was filled to capacity, with the auction relayed on video screens and auxiliary auctioneers on standby.

Less than five minutes into the sale, the first lot exceeded its estimated price by £400,000. The first real high point came soon afterwards. Lot five, a pickled tiger shark, a tiger shark in formaldehyde called The Kingdom, had an estimate of £6m, but after ten minutes of frenzied activity by two determined telephone bidders, the hammer went down at £9.6m. The price was a record for a work in formaldehyde (the previous was £1.8m)

Within half an hour of the sale starting, the bidders crammed into four rooms had put another £14m into Hirst’s bulging bank account - for a mere eight artworks. Fragments Of Paradise, made from stainless steel, glass and manufactured diamonds, was estimated at £1-1.5million but sold for more than three times that - just under £5.2million. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow - a collection of fish and fish skeletons in tanks of formaldehyde - sold for just under £3 million. The Sotheby’s estimate was £2.5-3.5million. After The Flood - featuring a dove in formaldehyde - sold for just under £1.8 million, exceeding its top estimate of £1.5million. Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of contemporary art for Sotheby’s in Europe, said the show was the biggest exhibition of the 43-year-old Hirst’s work to date. He told The Times: “We wanted to show it as an exhibition because although Damien has had lots of offers he has never agreed to a major retrospective. He doesn’t feel old enough.”

Before the auction, 21,000 visitors turned up to see the show, called Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, making it the most-viewed pre-sale exhibition in London auction history. Record numbers of auction catalogues were sold as memorabilia for £50 a time, rather than the usual £29.

As part of Hirst’s effort to “democratize” art - to allow non-auction-circuit art lovers to buy his works - a lot of his works were exhibited in other parts of the world, including New Delhi, the first time for any major pre-auction exhibition in India.

On Saturday, a private party to mark the sale was attended by Bono from U2, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, the actor-director Kevin Spacey, and Daria Zhukova, the girlfriend of Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich.

What was Hirst doing while the auction was taking place? He was probably playing snooker somewhere in Camden, a Sotheby’s executive said.

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