P.T. Barnum (perhaps apocryphally) is often quoted as having said that a sucker is born every minute. Damien Hirst, who has parted many people with their money for things that have his “brand” attached, and now boasts an estimated $350 million personal fortune as a result, could be Exhibit A in Barnum’s argument. This guy has sold some remarkable clothing to quite a few emperors.
Yes, these are highly subjective matters, and if you want to call Hirst an artist you have every right to do so. But he makes his own case for being something other than an artist in any meaningful sense of that word, and he makes it difficult for the average person from “outside the art world” to take the “art world” seriously. Is the market catching up with this slick marketer? Click the image above for the graph and short blurb version, or for the long form journalistic pin prick in the big bubble click here:
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—they’ve been “burned,” in the terminology of the art world. “He has way underperformed,” says Michael Moses, a retired New York University business professor who maintains a financial index for art. “He has lots and lots of negative returns.”
Hirst’s crash is all the more perplexing because it comes at a time when the contemporary art market has sharply rebounded, with auctions pulling in proceeds that rival the giddiest pre-recession highs. And it has continued through what would appear to be a year of accomplishments for Hirst. Following the spot exhibition, there was a retrospective at the Tate Modern, which drew record crowds. For the London Olympics, Hirst designed a stadium floor that looked like one of his signature “spin” paintings—a woozy Union Jack.
Hirst declined interview requests, as did Gagosian. James Kelly, chief executive of Hirst’s private company Science Ltd., says his boss “has transcended all confines of the art world” and is unconcerned about the auction results. “Certain artworks that come to auction are being priced, one could say, more realistically at today’s values,” Kelly says. “However, the long-term view is that prices for Damien’s work will be strong.”