Entire Hirst exhibition is snapped up by 'minigarch'

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A Russian multi-millionaire has bought up the entire contents of a Damien Hirst exhibition on the first evening of the two-day show, which was open only to VVIPs only and the second to 500 VIPs.

The works were part of a series Hirst presented in London last October called New Religion. "Everything was sold before the show opened," the Moscow gallery's co-owner Dmitry Khankin told Reuters.

"One man bought everything. We call him a minigarch (as opposed to an oligarch) because his annual income is only $50m (£25.3m)."

Russian media reported that the customs duties for importing Hirst's work amounted to $300,000 (£153,000) alone.

Readers left to speculate on what Hirst's work is really like were told that his creations start at "tens of thousands of dollars" going up to "several million dollars." The average monthly wage in Russia does not top £300.

Hirst seemed to suggest that the wealthy Prada-clad Russians who had come to ogle at his striking prints were easy to please.

"I'm operating at the top end of the art world," he told one Reuters journalist. "So I can come in and you're not going to think, 'It's a fucking birthday card'. So I can take a birthday card and re-represent it to you, and you're gonna go, 'Fucking hell, that's gotta be important if it's been put here'."

Moscow's elite came in their droves and consumed a selection of 'themed' drinks and snacks in the Triumph gallery, an elegant 19th century mansion.

Bloody Mary cocktails were served in test tubes while guests were invited to suck up pancetta and chocolate mousse through plastic syringes in keeping with the exhibition's medical theme.

The exhibits were mostly photographs of medical pills and drugs bottles that had been given religious titles such as The Birth of Jesus or The Good Samaritan. The idea of the original London exhibition, New Religion, was to suggest that science has become the new religion.

In a country where the Russian Orthodox Church is clawing back its pre-revolutionary power this is a controversial suggestion. Previous home-grown art installations that have played on religious symbolism have been vandalised by Orthodox radicals.

Perhaps that was what prompted Hirst and his advisers to keep this showing so private. Russia's high art establishment tried to be polite about the event.

"It's positive that Damien Hirst is finally showing in Moscow," said Zelfira Tregulova, a deputy director of the Kremlin Museum. "A lot of people are interested in him. But this gallery is a very high society place and I find it, shall we say, strange that the exhibition is showing for only one day (excluding the VVIP event)."

The show's symbolism, including a work entitled The Wounds of Christ which featured close-up photographs of a gunshot victim on a ventilator, did not upset wealthy Muscovites.

As one gallery owner put it: "Hirst is big, brash and expensive. He is bound to succeed in Russia."