Hirst deal to buy back work from Saatchi is 'ploy to stoke up price'

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The Independent Online

The conceptual artist Damien Hirst, who has embarked on a spending spree to buy back some of his most important works, was accused yesterday by experts of trying to stoke up the price of his art.

Overnight, Hirst has become one of the largest owners of his own works, after he agreed a deal to repurchase 12 pieces he had sold to the advertising guru and art collector Charles Saatchi.

The deal was made through White Cube, the gallery which, through Hirst's dealer Jay Jopling, has sold all his work.

In a terse statement, a spokesman for the Saatchi Gallery confirmed: "We have sold 12 Hirsts back to White Cube." The Gallery refused "for contractual reasons" to identify the works in question, but revealed details of what the haul does not include. "So that visitors to The Saatchi Gallery at County Hall aren't confused, they will still see The Shark, The Sheep, The Dots, The Butterflies, The Fish, The Flies and Hymn, the 20ft anatomical figure."

There was no word from Hirst's camp but it is thought that among the pieces that have changed hands are some of his most extreme, including his pickled, sliced pig, a rotting cow's head and flies in a pool of blood.

Neither side was prepared to comment on the value of the deal, which is likely to be a seven-figure sum. Recently at auction, a Hirst work entitled Something Solid Beneath The Surface of All Creatures Great And Small, a large glass and steel cabinet featuring mounted skeletons of small animals, was sold in the United States for $1.6m (£940,000), twice the amount it was expected to raise.

Hirst is already a rich man: a few months ago he made £11m within a fortnight of the opening of his latest exhibition, Romance in the Age of Uncertainty. In the past, he has described Saatchi, the man above all others who has bumped up prices of his works, as a businessman who "only recognises art with his wallet". But yesterday, the artist's motives were questioned by art experts, who suspect his surprise move was prompted by concerns more financial than aesthetic.

Relations between Hirst and Saatchi have recently been strained and the artist may have feared that his former friend and mentor might put all his Hirst works on to the open market at the same time.

Anna Somers Cocks, founder and group editorial director of The Art Newspaper, said: "I think we can take it for granted that he has done this to avoid a flood of his own works coming on to the market ... If a dumping operation took place, it would be very damaging."

Tom Lubbock, art critic of The Independent, said he had never in modern times heard of an artist attempting to recover such a large haul of his early works. He said: "Charles Saatchi has got rid of large amounts of work before, and he has harmed a lot of people's prices."

Hirst is not the first artist to have a desire to buy back his own works. J M W Turner bought examples of his early oeuvre, though perhaps for more noble motives. The art dealer Lowell Libson, who specialises in 18th and 19th-century British art, said Turner was driven by a mission to make sure his art was not hidden from public view in the private collections of the rich. "He was assiduous in reacquiring work when it suited him. In middle age, he was conscious of his own work, and he took a long-term view about how he wanted the public to see his art after his death."

Most artists have a problem quite unlike Hirst's or Turner's. Having conceived the works, they are unable to sell them in the first place.