Bidder scoops a Hirst painting for £200 at anonymous auction

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The Independent Online

When a buyer from the back of a crowded auction room put a bid in for lot 15, no one matched his modest offer of £200 for a painting filled with concentric circles.

The bidders, which included some of Ireland's foremost art dealers and media personalities, were at an anonymous auction at which a Damien Hirst painting was being sold alongside 41 others, but no one knew which one until after it was bought.

So the gasps of astonishment from the audience were understandable when lot 15 was revealed to an original work by Hirst, Britain's most bankable artist, which was created to feature in his famous "spin" series.

Some of the paintings which bidders had wrongly guessed to be a Hirst had sold for up to £5,000. Among them was a sculpture entitled Two Rats in a Drainpipe, made by three A-Level students from Hammersmith, west London.

The artist had donated the work, also titled Spin, to the auction at Flatlake Arts and Literary Festival, at Hilton Park, in County Monaghan. The festival organiser, Kevin Allen, who is a film director and brother of actor Keith, said the atmosphere was "electric".

"I had devised the idea and I had framed Damien's work myself on an oblong mount to put people off the scent. The works of art, which were anonymous and numbered, were brought out for a three-minute quick view, like a horse is at a ring.

"Five of Ireland's most prominent art dealers were standing at the front. When the bidding started, it was the best theatre I had ever seen," he said.

The work was bought by the film producer Allan Maloney, who already owns two Hirst Spin paintings, according to Allen, and so recognised the work straight away. But many were confused by other works in the auction that had been done deliberately in Hirst's style.

"Some kids who had donated works did spot paintings which Damien is known for and some did other spin paintings," Allen said.

Mr Maloney agreed to have his bargain-buy auctioned again. It was bought for £95,000 by Kevin Spillane, an Irish gallery owner.

Allen said Hirst had donated the painting in hope that it would go to a worthwhile owner. "He said if I give you this thing, I don't want it to be sold frivolously. I want someone to buy it because they like the painting," he added.

Johnny Madden, who runs Hilton Park and is Allen's father-in-law, said the atmosphere was all the more charged because the auction was being led by one of Ireland's most experienced blood-stock auctioneers, Nick Nugent.

"He got porters to bring in the lots in order and they walked across the stage with them," Mr Madden said.

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