A calf in formaldehyde with gold-plated horns and hooves leads a collection of previously unseen work by Damien Hirst that will be auctioned off this summer in a move that could revolutionise the sale of contemporary art.
A living artist has never before put a collection of brand new work straight on to the open market. Such pieces are usually sold through galleries and art dealers, usually to buyers who are known to them.
This method gives more control to the artist and opens up the sale to a much wider group of prospective buyers. Yesterday, art experts were predicting that the auction – the highlight of which is the gold calf, Hirst's largest ever formaldehyde work – could mark a turning point in the way artists sell their work. Indeed, Hirst himself hinted that "the world's changing – ultimately I need to see where this road leads", adding that such an auction "[felt] like a natural evolution for contemporary art".
"Although there is risk involved, I embrace the challenge of selling my work in this way," he said. He also vowed not to stop selling through his galleries, which include White Cube and Gagosian in London.
Hirst's 2.15 metre bull sculpture, The Golden Calf, is crowned by a solid gold disc, while its hooves and horns are cast in 18-carat gold. The piece sits on a marble base, is encased in a gold-plated box, and is expected to fetch up to £12m.
The sale will also feature new paintings and works that revisit some of Hirst's favourite subjects, including butterflies, cancer cells and pills, while four pieces will be sold for charity.
Sotheby's is conducting the sale over two days in September, enough time for up to 180 works to be sold, according to experts. Qatar's royal family and the Scottish property entrepreneur David Roberts are said to be among the biggest buyers of Hirst's work, as are a number of wealthy Russians. Sotheby's has extended the pre-sale exhibition to 10 days – double the normal length – and has alerted museums and galleries in hope that some of the works will reach public collections.
Cheyenne Westphal, the chairman of Sotheby's contemporary art in Europe, said: "We are hoping museums and private collectors who make their artworks available to the public on a regular basis will be present."
She added that the latest creations took Hirst's large-scale sculptures to a "new level". "What's new here is the monumental scale and the use of gold," she said.
Melanie Gerlis, art market editor at The Art Newspaper, said : "This is another outlet for him, it is a way of widening his market."