A formaldehyde frenzy as buyers snap up Hirst works

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Damien Hirst's audacious plot to take his creations straight to auction paid off last night as he set a new personal record of £10.3m for one artwork in the first part of a two-part sale. The astounding £70.5m total raised at Sotheby's in London exceeded all expectations. The previous auction record for a work by Hirst was £9.7m.

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. Another star lot, a tiger shark in formaldehyde called The Kingdom, made £9.6m – more than £3m above its expected price.

Hirst's decision to take 223 works straight to auction, bypassing the gallery owners and dealers who normally take a hefty commission, was watched closely by the art world and set a precedent for artists seeking to maximise their profits.

On the opening night of the two-day sale, Hirst's creations beat their combined expected sale price of £65m. The auctions, the second of which is tonight, were forecast to rake in £98m but, after last night's performance, experts are predicting a far better overall result.

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.

All of yesterday's 56 lots were sold and 167 more will go under the hammer tonight. A few days ago, Hirst confessed to having jitters about his big gamble, saying: "I imagine it going: 'Lot nine – no bids. Lot 10 – still no bids.'"

He need not have worried. 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, 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) that generated a ripple of applause in the auction room.

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.

The event was strictly all-ticket and limited to 656 clients, arguably making a mockery of Hirst's attempt to "democratise" 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.

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.

The excitement in the sale room proved that Hirst's maverick attempt to bring his wares directly to the market had captured the imagination of an audience far bigger than the usual art-collecting crowd, with rock stars, Wall Street traders and the general public keen to share in a moment of history.

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.

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 added: "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."

Hirst was reported to have been nervous about the outcome, not least because Sotheby's saw its share price fall by 8 per cent last Thursday, although it recovered the next day. His anxiety was compounded by fears that the sale might flop because he had saturated his market.

But Hirst has worked hard to establish his commercial might in the auction room. Last year, a 10ft-wide stainless steel medicine chest – filled with coloured tablets and called Lullaby Spring – was sold for £9.7m, making him the world's most expensive living artist at the time.

This was followed by his (RED) charity auction, which broke records and must surely have given Hirst more confidence in the unquenched demand for his work.

Oliver Barker, senior specialist in contemporary art at Sotheby's, said the auction was an "experiment that is breaking new ground", adding that many of the works in the auction were small paintings that were affordable to many.

"From the outset, Damien wanted to democratise this sale so that everybody could be involved," he said yesterday.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk