Frank’s Wild Years
Kelly Crow’s preview in the Wall Street Journal of the Hirst auction focuses on Hirst’s secret weapon, Frank Dunphy, his manager. It was Dunphy who pushed for the artist to sell directly through an auction house and receives much of the credit for Hirst’s business success even if his previous career was handling strippers and circus performers:
“All the time, I’m thinking I haven’t exploited Damien sufficiently enough,” he says. ( . . .)
Mr. Dunphy’s art-market instincts have served Mr. Hirst well in the past. The artist says he owes much of his global-brand status and $1 billion personal fortune to Mr. Dunphy, who tracks every piece bought or sold within the artist’s empire and has negotiated Mr. Hirst’s most lucrative business deals. As far as Mr. Dunphy is concerned, the prices for Mr. Hirst’s art have never been high enough. Only an open auction of the magnitude of the coming London sale can fully test the artist’s global reach, he says. ( . . .)
“People have a habit of underestimating Frank,” Mr Marlow [one of Hirst’s gallerists] says, “but you can’t outmaneuver him. He believes in Damien Hirst more than he believes in God.”
As a side note, Crow dwells briefly on the issue of the list of 200 unsold works at White Cube Gallery that The Art Newspaper published recently. Crow asks the “when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife question” and gets this answer:
Tim Marlow, White Cube’s exhibitions director, denies leaking the list, but says the gallery does have more than 100 works in stock.
Some have pointed out that the list could easily have comprised works being stored at the gallery. Marlow’s answer somewhat confirms that while still suggesting substantial stock.
The Sunday Times of London also gets in on the Frank Dunphy action. Waldemar Januszczak talks to Dunphy in his preview of the sale too. He asks how much Hirst is worth and is told a suspiciously round $1 billion:
What is certain is that no artist has previously earned as much as Hirst: “This guy is the biggest dollar-earner in the history of art.” Dunphy is old enough to remember Harold Wilson giving the Beatles a gong for their dollar earnings. But he cannot imagine anyone giving Hirst anything for the same achievement. It’s a good point. When pop stars and sportsmen do exceptionally well in their professions, everyone cheers their international success. When an artist does the same thing, a dark cloud of suspicion descends on them. The assumption that only poor artists are good artists seems, weirdly, to be ingrained within us.
Dunphy then tells Janszczak that the diamond skull was priced too low and is now £150m–but his story about the ownership of the skull conflicts with Hirst’s own version. No matter. Januszczak pals around with Hirst and David Bailey warns him he better write a good review of the pre-sale show:
I love the show. What’s more, I’m almost as confident as Dunphy that it will do very well, and that when everyone wakes up on the morning after, they will be waking up to an art world in which the rules have been changed. I’ll go further than that. There’s even a chance Hirst’s ridiculous auction will lighten the mood of the entire nation. Who else but an artist could ignore all this nonsense about recessions and cutbacks so blithely and stride so crazily in the opposite direction? Now, where’s that tiger shark? I want to flick V-signs at it.
After the sale, The Independent profiles Dunphy:
For better or worse, money has been at the heart of the resulting relationship, with Dunphy telling the young Hirst: “An artwork is only worth what the next guy is going to pay for it.”
The Man Behind Damien Hirst (Wall Street Journal)
Does Damien Hirst’s auction at Sotheby’s mean the end of the gallery? (Sunday Times of London)
Mr. Ten Percent (and He’s Worth It) (The Independent)