Last Talk With: Damien Hirst

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Damien Hirst /PAL HANSEN for TIME

Let’s wrap up those conversations with Hirst. Today we talk mostly about money, including the upcoming Sotheby’s auctions that will be selling 223 of his works in the first ever auction sale of work directly from an artist’s studio.

LACAYO: A few years ago you pretty much stopped drinking.

HIRST:  When I was drinking I thought I was working at like half power.  But when I stopped I realized I had been working on like ten percent. It took me a long time to convince myself it was the right thing to do. One thing that’s really important is that I used to wake up in the morning and just feel that I love life.  But when I was really drinking and taking a lot of drugs I was waking up in the morning and feeling like sh*t.  I thought it was because I was getting older.  But when I quit drinking I got that feeling back again. 

LACAYO: What difference did it make that [Hirst’s business manager] Frank Dunphy came along in your life?

HIRST:  I met Frank about ten years ago. I was having some financial situations tax wise.  Frank came and said “I’m gonna make you money”.  I said “You’re an accountant, you mean “save me money”,  And he said “No, no, make you money.” 

When Frank came along I had a fifty-fifty split with my dealers. Frank said, “If I’m gonna work with you I’ll take ten percent.” And I thought: “My God, then I’ll be under fifty percent. I can’t do that.” So I spent a long time deliberating.  But eventually I said: “Okay”.  So I went down to forty percent.  Within about four months he said to me: “Ok, are you ready now to talk about cutting down your dealers percentages?”  And we even do eighty-twenty deals now, so I think it worked out.

LACAYO:  Why do this Sotheby’s sale now?

HIRST: In the beginning of my career I tried not to be interested in the cash, in the commoner side of art.  I thought you’d get some gallery to come along and just take all that off your hands.  But now I’ve realized — all the way along in your career, you’ve just got to do it yourself.

And when I did the Pharmacy auction — [a 2004 sale of art and fixtures from the Pharmacy restaurant that Hirst once co-owned] — I realized auctions are a much more realistic market based on consumer demand.  I hate the way when you walk into a gallery and say you want to buy a Damien Hirst they say: “Who are you?”  I much prefer to be in a shop where you can just go in and buy it. 

LACAYO: How did you break this to your dealers, Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling?

HIRST: Jay’s given up trying to stop me doing what I do. Jay, I told him personally. With Larry, I let Millie, the girl who represents me in the gallery, tell him.  I said Millie, you’ve got to do it. 

LACAYO: Do you think your relationship with your galleries will survive this thing? 

HIRST: At the end of the day the auction houses have got sh*t galleries. They’re not great spaces to show art. They really have to work very hard to make it look good in there. And it’s not up for a very long time. I’ve got a six week installation period for a [Sotheby’s pre-sale public viewing] that’s up for nine or ten days or something. Larry [Gagosian] has got the best galleries in the world, they’re amazing, and all artists are suckers for great spaces.

LACAYO: Does it concern you that so much of the focus on your work is on its status as merchandise? You don’t see it discussed very often in any other terms. And that’s something you encourage yourself when you put work out there like For the Love of God, your diamond-encrusted skull, and announce from the start that you want a record-breaking amount of money for it.

HIRST: I don’t worry about it. At the end of the day I worry a lot about whether the art is good.