Dropping the Other Calf

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Hirst with The Golden Calf. /© Damien Hirst — photos: PRUDENCE CUMMINGS

As auction sales have spiked in recent years, a lot of living artists have been on the sidelines feeling left out. The sales have made millions for collectors and the auction houses, but the artists don’t share in the profits. (Though strong performance for their work at auction generally translates into higher prices for their new work in galleries.) So for years the persistent uncomfortable question among gallery owners has been how long would it be before a major brand name artist chose to bypass the gallery system entirely and bring their new work directly to auction.

Now we know. This morning Sotheby’s in London is announcing that on September 15 and 16 it will auction a large number of new works by Damien Hirst in a sale that will have a name, just like a show: “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”. All of the works were created over the past two years, including The Golden Calf, which, like that diamond-encrusted skull that he attempted to sell for $100 million, looks like another of Hirst’s forays into have-your-calf-and-eat-it-too satire of wealth and greed that brings him a small fortune if it sells. Sotheby’s describes it as “a bull in formaldehyde, whose head is crowned by a solid gold disc and whose hooves and horns are cast in 18-carat solid gold.” They expect it to sell for eight to twelve million pounds, about $16 to $24 million dollars.

In the Sotheby’s announcement, Hirst recalls that he happily auctioned off the art and other contents of his restaurant Pharmacy four years ago, and says shruggingly: “I always felt I would like to do another auction. It’s a very democratic way to sell art and it feels like a natural evolution for contemporary art. Although there is risk involved, I embrace the challenge of selling my work in this way. I never want to stop working with my galleries. This is different. The world’s changing. Ultimately I need to see where this road leads.”

But my favorite quotes come from his London and New York galleries. Jay Jopling, who has represented Hirst at his White Cube Gallery in London for years, offers this bit of gallantry: “Damien has always been a mold breaker and I’ve stood alongside him in all his ventures, including his strategic forays into the auction world, which have certainly helped to broaden his market. 8,601 flawless diamonds notwithstanding, ours has never been a traditional marriage and I look forward to many more adventures to come.”

(For some reason I think I hear the sound of gritted teeth.)

And the American uber-dealer Larry Gagosian says this: “As Damien’s long-term gallery, we’ve come to expect the unexpected. He can certainly count on us to be in the room with paddle in hand.”

Probably wishing they could spank him with it.

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