Emin and Hirst join forces to save Britart's favourite drinking den

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The Independent Online

Eleven original Tracey Emins for a paltry £2,500, a Damien Hirst for a mere £85,000? An afternoon with Ms Emin, a steal at £600? On Friday night, at a little-publicised auction held at an unassuming building down an alley off London's Charing Cross Road, prices for work by British art's dynamic duo hit a low not seen for years. Has the bubble burst at last? Not quite. For once, everyone, including the artists themselves, was overjoyed at the meagre prices achieved, at least in global art-market terms.

To help fend off financial woes, the Colony Room Club - for decades the exclusive watering-hole of artists and writers tucked away at the top of stairs in the heart of Soho - hosted a fund-raising auction of work by many of Brit-art's big players.

The bidding, held at an art studio near the Colony, brought together work by Emin, Hirst, Gavin Turk and Sam Taylor-Wood - all members or supporters of the Colony - in a spectacle that proved that slick collectors such as Charles Saatchi have made little impression on a world that still thrives on fags, gossip and house red.

Christie's it wasn't. Peopled by a mix of besuited bidders and Colonistas in tatty leathers and crumpled velvet, the auction started in boho style an hour late. Once underway, it proved to be a coup de théâtre that made the Turner Prize seem dead.

The gravity of the event demanded an appearance by Ms Emin herself, who instantly created a 10-part original artwork by taking a series of Polaroids of the Colony's manager, Michael Wojas, undressing, and signing each one. Taking the stage next to the auctioneer, Ms Emin cajoled buyers to fork out in a good cause. "These amazing artworks are pretty tacky... seedy," she blurted to ooohs and guffaws. "It's important to keep the Colony Room happening," she went on, hectoring bids up from £600 to £800 before throwing in one of her own favourite drawings, a sketch of Margate, her birthplace, entitled Take Me Home.

"Michael does so much for art," she shouted. "You can have tea with me!" Polaroids and sketch pulled in £2,500. Minutes later, the Hirst - a butterfly work called Clean Life - provoked a duel between anonymous buyers, with £85,000 clinching it - a bargain, as one minor Hirst recently sold at auction in New York for £940,000.

The bidding raised over £100,000 for the Colony, with 10 per cent going to a trust set up in memory of the Clash leader Joe Strummer, who died last year. "This was to set up the long-term future of the Colony," said Mr Wojas, who was "touched" by the support.

After all, he said, the artists and buyers were merely paying back for the consolation they'd received in the Colony's bosom over the years. Which probably explains why one bidder snapped up a framed 1970s carpet tile from the club, stains and all, for £600. That and the offer from Ms Emin that she'd come to the buyer's house and do a portrait of him, or her, on the tile.

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