Damien Hirst’s spot paintings have been reviled and praised in equal measure. While many are left baffled by the huge sums they command, one mystery is set to be cleared up: quite how many are out there.
The artist at the forefront of the Young British Artists (YBAs) has produced spot paintings for 27 years and some wild estimates had suggested the number of works may be as high as 7,000. There are, in fact, about 1,400.
A catalogue of the spot paintings is to be published by Other Criteria, Hirst’s publishing company, which will reveal the exact amount in existence when it is released in the next few months.
Jason Beard, the director of Other Criteria, told The Art Newspaper that “every single spot painting made will be listed” in the catalogue.
The news polarised dealers in the art world. One said the catalogue would set collectors’ minds at rest, knowing the exact number. Another argued showing that many works would highlight the manufacturing process.
One art industry insider was particularly keen to see the catalogue, telling the paper it would highlight when Hirst “realised what a money spinning machine he had created” and increased production of the works.
Hirst has admitted openly that of the 1,400 works on the market he has left all but 25 to his assistants. He has said in interview that despite the use of assistants “every single spot painting contains my eye, my hand and my heart”.
The paintings, comprising rows of different coloured dots, come in different shapes and sizes, and are named after pharmaceutical drugs. The largest is 118 inches by 478 inches while the smallest is 1 inch by half an inch. One painting includes 25,781 dots.
The most expensive spot painting sold so far was in February 2008 at Phillips de Pury, which sold a 204 by 84 inch work for $3.4m.
They continue to sell and inspire such devotion that a chance to win signed spot prints saw 128 fans and collectors travel to 11 different Gagosian galleries around the world during a recent exhibition.
The Gagosian show met with as much criticism as praise. “These spots reflect nothing about how we live, see, or think, they’re just some weird meme for the impossibly rich that nobody knows how to stop,” Will Brand wrote on art blog Art F City.
Dan Fox, on the Frieze blog, described the experience of Hirst’s show as like “eating a vanilla ice-cream in a branch of Gap stocked with a particularly beige seasonal clothing range”.
Hirst himself has put it down to his “phenomenal love of colour” saying: “It was just a way of pinning down the joy of colour.”
The artist has said he wanted them to be an “endless series” and “sort of infinite”. He told an interviewer in December that he was working on two paintings, one with a million dots and one with two million adding they would “take years to make”.
Before the major survey of Hirst’s works at Tate Modern last year, which include a series of the spot paintings, former public gallery chief Julian Spalding, predicted the “con art” bubble was set to collapse in his book Con Art – Why You Ought to Sell Your Damien Hirsts While You Can.
Hirst himself has an estimated fortune of £350m but his work has suffered in the past year. Artnet figures showed work sold during 2005 to 2008 had resold for 30 per cent less than the original price.