Prices plummeting, lustre fading – has Damien Hirst jumped the pickled shark?

Works by the enfant terrible of YBAs have sold for 70 per cent of their original price

Jonathan Brown
Monday 26 November 2012 22:30
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For two decades he was the enfant terrible of British art whose preserved sharks and spot paintings came to symbolise an era of excess netting their creator an estimated £350m.

But while the names of the 20th century's great artists such as Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Gerhard Richter have emerged more valuable than ever from the financial collapse, the same, it is claimed, is not true of Damien Hirst.

According to figures from the international art company Artnet quoted in an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, works by Hirst produced in his most lucrative period between 2005 and the £111m direct sale of his art in 2008 have resold for nearly 30 per cent less than their original purchase price.

Since 2009 one in three of the 1,700 pieces offered at auction has failed to sell at all. Even at this year's Frieze art show in London a number of works by the artist did not find a buyer while at Sotheby's in New York this month a 2007 work entitled Sanctimony narrowly failed to hit the lowest estimate by the time the hammer fell.

In the years surrounding the millennium, Hirst created a vast catalogue of products with the help of a team of assistants. But a 2009 exhibition of painting was widely derided whilst some critics have come to question the enduring value of several of the Young British Artists, of whom Hirst was the poster boy.

Much of the decline is down to a simple oversupply of his work, explained Georgina Adam, editor-at-large at The Art Newspaper and an art market specialist. The 2008 sale saw Hirst, 47, bypass his traditional dealers and offer to market 218 items, setting a new record for a one artist sale. Many were bought by Russian, Middle Eastern and Indian collectors as a "recession-proof" investment.

According to art market rumours, Hirst's dealers have regularly stepped in to bid up the value of his work, whilst auction houses are cautious of accepting too many pieces at once. At the 2008 sale, purchasers were offered generous financing arrangements.

Concerns are frequently aired over exactly how much money actually changed hands for his most expensive creation For the Love of God – a platinum-plated, diamond-encrusted skull – which boasted a £50m price tag. The skull was purchased by a consortium of investors led by Hirst.

Ms Adam said: "I think Hirst was a very good artist at the beginning but he has been a fabricator of luxury goods for a long time now. If you have a very early work that will remain valuable, but if you bought a print for £10,000 I don't think you are going to get your money back. However, there will always be a market for his early works."

Damien Hirst: Memorable misses

Underworld (October 2012)

Underworld, which sold for £241,250 at the Beautiful Inside My Head Forever sale at Sotheby's in 2008, failed to sell at Christie's in October.

Sketch (May 2012)

A sketch done on the back of a poster advertising a wrestling match failed to sell earlier this year. The auctioneers could find no one willing to go the reserve price.

Dicaprin (2011)

One of Hirst's spot paintings, which had sold for $1.1m at a charity auction in 2008, was eventually sold again last year for $600,000 after an initial resale failure.

For the Love of God (2007)

The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium which included the artist himself.

Killing Time (2008)

While his Sotheby's sale proved a huge success with 218 pieces selling for £111.6m, this work – a plastic box with a desk, chair, pills and a watch – failed to find a buyer.

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