Now, I don't tend to do guided tours. Don't like the idea of having my hand held while I move from exhibit to exhibit, room to room. Once, 18 years ago, I wangled a trip to New York just so I could see the Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and I remember being shocked at the lines of visitors, glacially moving from exhibition space to exhibition space, dutifully listening to the catalogue headsets, and nodding earnestly, almost as one.
However, I've just been on the best guided tour I've had since I was shown Fortnum's wine cellar about 40 years ago. Last week I was shown around Damien Hirst's enormous collection of studios and warehouses down in the West Country. I was taken around by Frank Dunphy, Damien's manager and his lovely wife Lorna, given coffee, a fully catered lunch, and a sneak preview of Hirst's next gargantuan show, working title: Treasures. This show will comprise 300 pieces, and, without giving anything away, let me just say the following: Nefertiti, coral, Sienna Miller, the six-armed woman, the multi-headed hyena, elephant skulls, hermaphrodites, and the sort of executive gold-plated knick-knacks that collectors are going to wet themselves over. This is probably Hirst's most ambitious show, and the work is going to be extraordinary.
His set-up here is extraordinary, too, and his enormous workshop makes Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi look like amateurs. This is a proper art factory, employing hundreds of local people, many of them young offenders. There are works being built, works waiting to be sold, works being repaired, and works being rehearsed. There are Damien Hirst surfboards, guitars, multiples, private commissions, furniture, the lot.
Frank is retiring soon, and while he says he'll be keeping his hand in by bringing people down to the studio on days he isn't busy writing his memoirs, this was one of his last official tours. Because of that, it felt like a special occasion. Especially when he told the joke about the woman putting her hand down this guy's trousers. You see, there was this chap in the butcher's shop...
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'