Jay Jopling, dealer and shaker to Emin and Co, misses gallery opening to nurse his artist wife

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A plastic skeleton, limbs in crucifix position, with bouncing ping pong balls for eyes, is placed horizontally on the floor. It will cost you £250,000 to buy. But then it is by Damien Hirst.

On the wall is a white blanket; stories of girlhood traumas are written on it. Embroidered into it is a slogan: "I lay there for two days in my piss-stained sheet." No prizes for guessing that this tale of adolescent bladder failure is by Tracey Emin. Her blanket recollection will set you back £55,000.

The latest manifestation of Britart and the latest prices they command were on show yesterday in a venue that aims to become a cultural hotspot.

Sandwiched between the openings of Tate Britain and Tate Modern, this one-room gallery, White Cube II, in Hoxton Square, the heart of the London artists' quarter,could rival both for chic and shock. It is owned by Jay Jopling, dealer to the trendiest artists.

Characteristic new works by Hirst, Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gary Hume, Mona Hatoum and others were on view, most of them specially made for the opening exhibition. Emin stayed up until 5am for two weeks working on her embroidered blanket entitled "I Think It Must Have Been Fear". Gavin Turk modelled his face on to a bloodstained "body" of Che Guevera (£85,000). The Chapman brothers displayed an unaffectionate mixed media model of an empty McDonald's. A snip at £50,000.

But as celebrity guests, including Elton John and Hugh Grant, enjoyed the latest outing of Britart last night, there was also a sadness about the occasion. Jopling was not present. His wife, the former Turner Prize shortlisted artist Sam Taylor-Wood, has just hademergency surgery, in the United States, for cancer. The news will shock many in the art world as Ms Taylor-Wood has been a constant and lively presence on the circuit.

One of her works, a photo-montage, soliloquy and VIII(£26,000) took up much of one of the walls in the new gallery.

The curator, Annushka Shani, said yesterday: "It is very sad indeed that Jay and Sam cannot be here. They were both looking forward to it. It is the perfect venue. The East End of London has the largest concentration of artists anywhere in Europe."

She added: "Damien's work, 'Rehab is for Quitters', we have installed in such a way that it is as immaterial as can be. The skeleton seems to be floating. It has a dark humour but a poetic hopefulness about it. The hands are in the crucifix position. There is great pathos."

Gilbert and George have a 21-panel piece called "Tree Naked". The pair - admittedly hardly neutral observers as they have just been signed up by Jopling - said: "This is the finest commercial gallery that Europe has ever had. We love the space and the beautifullocation and we are thrilled."

Designed by Mike Rundell, the architect of Hirst and Matthew Freud's Pharmacy restaurant in London, the new gallery is a cool, light and airy space, 17 metres long, nine metres wide and almost five metres high. The floor is concrete and the most striking feature is that the gallery is entirely top-lit, with a specially designed roof that directs light down through translucent ceiling panels, creating a diffuse and even light.

The original but smaller White Cube in St James's, London, will continue to operate as a project space for contemporary art but the Hoxton gallery will now become the space for some of the biggest names in cutting-edge art.