This BusinessWeek feature on Damien Hirst’s market collapse is very compelling for the way it confounds so much of the complaining about the art market that came out in response to $1bn+ in Contemporary art sold last week. To recap, we’re told that the vulgar market and its hood-winked vulgar participants spend their vulgar money on work that’s been expertly hyped.
And yet here we have the financial decline of Hirst’s market. Hirst is one of the most relentlessly hyped artists. He had a huge retrospective at one of the world’s most prestigious museums of Contemporary art this year to coincide with one of the world’s most visible events, the Olympics. He also had an unprecedented show at the world’s most powerful and influential gallery that was slavishly covered by every outlet in the art (and general) media.
The general public responded to the Hirst retrospective in record numbers. In terms of popularity, he remains the most famous living artist in the world. His buyers, however, were not impressed with the show spot paintings (perhaps that’s because the show revealed the entire project to be less interesting than first inklings.)
Is this a measure of the wisdom or stupidity of the art market?
Whether Damien Hirst is a lasting or important artist is anyone’s guess. That’s not a statement of bemusement. The nature of art history prevents any judgment made now from being anything more than opinion. Given the vitriol directed at those who have a position in trendy artists, one might think the 30% decline in Hirst’s overall market documented in the BusinessWeek story (and greater losses individual works) would have someone like Alberto Mugrabi—who comes out here about his market-making position in Hirst and his family’s owning 100 works—in a panic.
Instead, Andrew Rice shows a sanguine Mugrabi discussing one of the works on offer at Sotheby’s last week:
Mugrabi pulls up the auction listing for Sanctimony on the Sotheby’s website. “This painting at the height of the market would have been $3.5 or $4 million,” he says. Sotheby’s estimates it will sell for $1.2 million to $1.8 million—a tempting price. “People are very funny, because they like buying things when they’re expensive,” Mugrabi says. “They don’t like buying things when they’re inexpensive. All of a sudden, they can buy the art for the same price as it was 15 years ago, but now they don’t want to do it.”
The Hirst work, like so many others at Sotheby’s Evening sale, made a price below the low estimate—and far below the estimates of expert consultants like Skate’s which called the right price at $1.7m. It eventually sold for $1.1m
For all his celebrity, Hirst’s stock in the art market has experienced a stunning deflation. According to data compiled by the firm Artnet, Hirst works acquired during his commercial peak, between 2005 and 2008, have since resold at an average loss of 30 percent. And that probably understates the decline—judging from the dropoff in sales volume, collectors aren’t bringing their big-ticket Hirsts to market. A third of the more than 1,700 Hirst pieces offered at auctions since 2009 have failed to sell at all
Damien Hirst: Jumping the Shark (BusinessWeek)