Sell up now before it's too late, expert tells Damien Hirst fans

Spalding claims the penny will soon drop that "con art" has no place in top galleries

Sell while you can. That is the stark warning from a senior museum figure to anyone who has bought an artwork by Damien Hirst, the self-styled enfant terrible of British art.

Writing in the Opinion pages of today's Independent, Julian Spalding, who has headed some of Britain's foremost public galleries, predicts the bubble will soon burst for Hirst and fellow exponents of what he calls "con art" – a play on the term "conceptual art", the so-called art of ideas. He likens this bubble in the art world to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It will crash, he says, when collectors realise how "seriously worthless" conceptual art is.

Spalding's attack comes as Tate Modern prepares to unveil "the first substantial survey" of Hirst's work in the UK, opening next week. The gallery praises Hirst for creating "iconic work". But Spalding said: "The emperor has nothing on. When the penny drops that these are not art, it's all going to collapse. Hirst should not be in the Tate. He's not an artist. What separates Michelangelo from Hirst is that Michelangelo was an artist and Hirst isn't."

Ridiculing Hirst's pickled shark as lacking true artistry, he said: "To take one example, [the shark] is not only not worth the $12m... paid for it, it isn't worth a cent, not because it isn't great art, good art or even bad art, but because it isn't art at all."

Spalding was director of the Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow galleries, with world class collections. He promoted Beryl Cook andL S Lowry, artists loved by the public but loathed by the avant-garde.

His condemnation of conceptual art is fully explored in a new book Con Art – Why You Ought To Sell Your Damien Hirsts While You Can, published on April 1. Likening himself to the boy who pointed to the Emperor's clothes, Spalding warns: "All genuine creative effort has been knocked into the shadows...The con lies in...calling something art that isn't art."

Hirst is one of Britain's richest men, through marketing his "brand", Spalding says. In 2008, he auctioned works for £111m, a world record. He has faced accusations of plagiarism and unproven rumours that he inflates prices by buying his own works – but Spalding's devastating attack goes further by saying that it is not art at all.

The cover of Spalding's book features Dolly the sheep, a play on Hirst's pickled sheep and, perhaps, on collectors collecting like sheep.

He also takes aim at Tracey Emin, noting that putting an unmade bed in an art gallery does not "make it a work of art". He said: "The Mona Lisa is the Mona Lisa wherever it is, hung in an airport foyer or... even lying in a gutter."

Both the Tate and Science, Hirst's company, declined to comment.

Timeline: how the Damien Hirst phenomenon unfolded

1992

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, commissioned by Charles Saatchi for £50,000, comprising a shark pickled in formaldehyde, goes on display. Sells in 2005 for £6-7m.

1996

The spot painting Adrenochrome Semicarbazone Sulfonate, 1992, sells for £32,200 at Christie's, as part of the artist's first successful sale at auction.

1998

Christie's sets a world record price for Damien Hirst at auction by selling his medicine cabinet, God, for £188,500.

2000

Hymn, a huge sculptural rendering of a human anatomical model created in 1996, is purchased by Charles Saatchi for £1m.

2006

Sculpture Away from the Flock sells for £1.8m, beating his previous record of £1.2m. Massimo Lauro, the Italian shipping magnate, bought the work in 1996 for a reported £40,000.

2007

Hirst set the record at Sotheby's – £9.65m for Lullaby Spring, a medicine cabinet – for a work by a living artist. For the Love of God, a skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds, is sold for £50m.

2008

Hirst becomes first artist to sell a complete body of work, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever. The 223 items reach a £111m, including £10.3m for The Golden Calf, in formaldehyde.

2011

Total sales for Hirst works fall from £170m in 2008 to £12m in 2009. Hirst said he was optimistic prices would recover and by 2011 another of his 1,400 spot paintings sells for £1.8m.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?