Bloomberg’s Linda Sandler is reporting that Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull has been sold to a (so far) unnamed “investment group” for the $100 million that Hirst was asking. (Sandler’s story notes that The Art Newsaper reported recently that during discussions on the sale the skull — it’s official title is For the Love of God — had been discounted to 38 million pounds, roughly $76.6 million at the current exchange rate. But Hirst’s business manager is insisting that Hirst got his full asking price. Will the paperwork on this deal ever be made public? )
Whatever they paid, those investors have made their purchase at the very moment when the superheated art market may be headed for a cooling off period, what with the hedge fund billionaires who were some of the biggest art buyers having been some of the biggest losers in this summer’s mortgage lending meltdown. Then again, investment groups generally buy for the long haul. The earliest one that I know of, La Peau de l’Ours — that’s the “bear’s skin” for us anglophones — started buying art by Picasso, Matisse and other then-risky moderns in 1904 for the purpose of holding it for ten years. At their auction in 1914 they scored roughly a five fold increase on their money.
A decade from now, will Hirst’s skull be worth half a billion? That would require a lot of careful tending of Hirst’s reputation. (You can count on that part.) And also occasional reminders to the rest of the world that the thing exists at all. That won’t be easy to do if it’s locked away in a vault for much of the next decade. Which may help to explain why one of the terms of sale was an obligation on the buyer to lend the skull to museums for a period of about three years.
And the skull’s actual value as, well, a work of art? That doesn’t get talked about much. And Hirst, who is a literally indifferent painter — his studio assistants turn out his painted works — but a reasonably canny conceptual artist, no doubt conceived the thing precisely to be the last word in pure capitalist fetish object, it’s “value”, including its market value, being entirely a consequence of….its market value. I get the joke. I’m also glad I’m not footing the bill.