On the eve of his blockbuster London show, Damien Hirst has hit back at the critic who deemed his work "worthless" and urged collectors not to sell up, adding in unashamedly capitalist terms that art is the "greatest currency in the world". Hirst, whose wealth has been estimated at more than £200m, said he was pleased to have "made lots of money", adding: "I'm not afraid of that."
The largest retrospective of Hirst's work in Britain opens tomorrow at the Tate Modern and includes some of his most famous – and notorious – pieces from the shark in formaldehyde and a range of spot paintings to the £50m skull covered in diamonds.
While the Tate dubbed him "one of the most significant artists of our time," his output came under attack last week from curator and writer Julian Spalding who called Hirst's creations "worthless as works of art". Spalding also urged collectors to sell any pieces they owned before their value collapsed.
Hirst hit back at his critics yesterday, saying Spalding's comments in particular were "more about selling his book than anything else," adding that his works could gain in value. "They say: 'Sell your Hirsts.' I say: 'Don't sell your Hirsts. Hang on to them'. They're not that high," the artist said.
He added: "I think art is the greatest currency in the world. Gold, diamonds, art are equal things and I think it's a great thing to invest in. I love art and you can put it on your wall and enjoy it as well."
The 46-year old, one of the most prominent of the so-called Young British Artists since his emergence in the late 1980s, further dismissed sceptics saying that some of the 20th-century's most celebrated artists, including Picasso, had also fallen foul of the critics. "Andy Warhol said that great thing: 'Don't read your reviews, weigh them," Hirst said.
The London show, which runs until 9 September, is a "mid-career retrospective," according to Hirst. It covers a period of over two decades, from his work at Goldsmiths to the auction at Sotheby's in 2008.
As well as the pickled shark, which is called The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, created in 1991, the show has Mother and Child Divided, the cow and calf split in half and preserved in formaldehyde unveiled 16 years later.
Other works include A Thousand Years, which has the lifecycle of flies in a cage with a rotting cow's head, and In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies) where butterflies flit around the viewers. Other celebrated works include the spin paintings, the largest of the 1,400 spot paintings and the Pharmacy installation.
Despite Spalding's comments, the appetite for Hirst's works continues to hold, especially the spot paintings. He said they "keep looking great" and that's why people continue to buy them.
If the work was left in a skip, he said, someone would take it home: "That's the definition of a good painting and that's why it sells for lots of money," adding: "There are a lot of people in the world and not a lot of spot paintings."
The artist said: "I'm one of those lucky artists that have made money in their lifetime, and make lots of money. I'm not afraid of that. The goal has always been to make art. Making money is a very happy by-product."
Unsurprisingly, few opportunities are missed to sell merchandise at the show. As well as Hirst deckchairs, skateboards, umbrellas, jewellery and wallpaper, the gift shop offers a limited edition plastic skull for £36,800.
The maestro of the macabre
adrian hamilton, page 44