An artist? I'm a brand name, says Hirst

Nick Glass,Cole Moreton
Sunday 01 October 2000 00:00

His comeback show is the most successful seen in New York for years. Stars had to queue round the block to get into the opening, and the $11m worth of art inside has been sold already. But Damien Hirst admits he hardly lifted a finger to create any of it.

His comeback show is the most successful seen in New York for years. Stars had to queue round the block to get into the opening, and the $11m worth of art inside has been sold already. But Damien Hirst admits he hardly lifted a finger to create any of it.

"I don't think the hand of the artist is important on any level because you're trying to communicate an idea," says Hirst, the former BritArt enfant terrible who has become a world-wide critical and commercial phenomenon.

And Hirst has revealed that his next major work will be a huge pregnant woman with the foetus showing. It is being designed by the toy expert whose anatomical model was the basis for Hymn, the 20ft polychrome bronze that is the biggest of the 31 pieces on show in New York.

Critics pointed out that Hymn was little more than an enlargement of a model available in toy shops, but Hirst avoided a legal fight with the manufacturers Humbrol by agreeing to make donations to two children's charities. He also made a "goodwill payment" to the original designer, a 57-year-old commercial sculptor from Hertfordshire called Norman Emms. Despite having publicly admitted his disappointment at the size of the payment, Mr Emms is now working on the new woman for Hirst - although they have yet to meet face to face.

Charles Saatchi bought Hymn for an alleged £1m, and the collector has already expressed an interest in a piece whose working title must surely be Her.

More than 5,000 people turned up at the Gagosian Gallery on West 24th Street last Saturday to see Hirst's first one-man show in three years. The actors Steve Martin and Milla Jovovich, Salman Rushdie, the designer Philippe Starck and the artist Jeff Koons were among those who had to wait in the street before being allowed past nightclub-style security. The title was "Theories, Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings".

The artist is utterly unapologetic that the only thing on display to which he has put a hand is an unfinished painting in a glass case called Concentrating on a Self-Portrait as a Pharmacist. "I can't believe that still comes up," he says. "It seems insane to me. Everybody's always done that."

Like Andy Warhol before him, and Jeff Koons now, he has a small factory of artists to turn his ideas into reality. The spot paintings worth $80-$300,000 were made in Leyton, East London. The spin paintings and pill cases in the show are products of Vauxhall, south of the Thames; and the rest was made at a third studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

The dozen or so workers include the artist's brother Bradley, who spent the last 15 months working on The Void, a cabinet containing 5,000 pills handcrafted out of lead, tin, pewter, plastic and resin. Three more are planned.

"I think becoming a brand name is a really important part of life," says Mr Hirst. "It's the world we live in. It's got to be addressed, understood and worked out, as long as you don't become your own idea of yourself, you don't start making Damien Hirsts."

His spot prints are offered on the Eyestorm website - three limited edition prints, Valium, Opium, and LSD, range in price from $750 to $3,000. His first book, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, published by Booth-Clibborn in 1998, has sold 27,000 copies at £75 a time. A signed copy is £300.

Hymn should be coming home to Britain for Christmas, along with another new Saatchi purchase, Love Lost, a glass cabinet filled with water, a gynaecological couch, and 30 fish. Saatchi owns about 20 other Hirst pieces. To the disappointment of Tate Modern, the Hirst show here will be at the Saatchi Gallery in April.

Nicholas Glass is Arts Correspondent for Channel Four News. His report from New York will be broadcast tonight

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