Out, damn'd spot!
By Cristina Ruiz.
To sell or not to sell: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to hang on to my Damien Hirst spot print as it’s pretty cool or to take arms against my declining bank balance and offer it to the highest bidder?
First a recap: last year I spent $3,250 of my own (very limited) funds travelling around 11 Gagosian galleries on three continents to see simultaneous shows of Hirst’s spot paintings.
Although we didn’t know it at the time, this multi-national multi-gallery muscle-flexing was to be Damien Hirst’s swansong with Larry Gagosian. Just a few months later, the artist and dealer parted company for reasons that remain unclear. (Officially, everyone’s really happy and wishes the other continued success and prosperity; unofficially... who knows?)
Like the 128 others who completed this trek, I now have my very own spot print entitled Hypothalamus Acetone Powder (edition of 128 plus 10 artist’s proofs). This is huge—59 x 53 inches—and for several weeks it remained concealed in its monolithic packaging in my hallway where animals and small children could admire it (see above).
Finally, the moment to examine the artwork arrives. I secure the assistance of a friend who is a print curator at a major museum in the US (and asks for said museum to remain unidentified as it is not happy about its staff assisting journalists in silly ventures).
A clean sheet is draped across the living room floor, our hands are washed (no gloves are worn, as apparently we need to “feel the consistency of the paper”), masses of packaging are removed and then the print is slowly, slowly unfurled. I feel like I’m about to witness the unravelling of a newly discovered Dead Sea scroll. What message will this mysterious manuscript contain?
The message, it turns out, is rather boring. The inscription I asked Hirst to write—“Dear Cristina, fuck off”—is nowhere to be seen. Instead there is a hackneyed dedication “For Cristina” next to which appear the artist’s signature and drawings of his trademark motifs: a heart, shark, butterfly and skull.
To produce the 420 differently-coloured spots on this print, 420 silk screens have been applied. It’s an incredibly labour intensive manufacturing process for something that looks machine-made; therein lies the paradox of the spots.
So, what now? To keep or not to keep?
I decide to investigate my options. First I consult Richard Lloyd, International Department Head of Prints at Christie’s. “This is a tricky object to estimate,” he advises.
“I would probably benchmark it against two similar compositions that have sold before, of roughly the same scale, called Ellipticine and Methamphetamine. With these records in mind, I would also refer to the groundbreaking sale we held of prints from the archives of Paragon Press in 2008, which included spot prints with annotated drawings—this will give an idea of the sort of premium drawings add to his prints.”
“Taking these factors into account, I would probably put it into our catalogue with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.”
Seriously? £30,000? For a Hirst spot print? In 2013? While this seems like a whopping sum to me, it’s funny how the prospect of a serious wad of cash manages to override journalistic cynicism in a matter of seconds. “When do you want it?” I enquire.
“If it was the first to appear at auction,” continues Lloyd, “then it would generate considerable interest… If it made a big price, then no doubt someone else would put theirs in, and it would probably make a little less, and if a third one came up within a short space of time it would probably make less still… you probably wouldn’t want to be the fourth or fifth person to offer it in a single year. Generally speaking, I would have thought it best to be either one of the first to sell, or one of the last.”
So, if I’m going to sell, I should be the first. But, just as I am thinking of new and innovative ways to spend my money, I discover that my ship has already sailed. An enterprising soul called Jason has managed to consign his Hypothalamus Acetone Powder to Phillips in record time. It is being offered in an evening sale in London on 27 February with a much more conservative estimate of £4,000-£6,000.
Dammit. I decide to continue my research. One London dealer, who asks to remain anonymous, advises that prints dedicated to a specific person are “hard to sell”. I would have to find a buyer with the same name as me, spelled in the same way—Italian, not Anglo-Saxon (no “h”). So, no point trying Christina Aguilera.
Another London dealer who also asks not to be named takes a different view. “I’ve sold dedicated material before and I don’t think it’s a problem. The problem is people are sick of Damien Hirst.” Ouch.
“I don’t really have much Hirst to sell right now. I got very nervous about him about 18 months ago.” Another difficulty, he (or maybe she) continues, is that the market for Hirst’s spot prints is “incredibly inconsistent”. Some prints “make $30,000, then the next one goes unsold at $7,000.”
The dealer ends on a positive note. “In the grand scheme of Hirst’s output, I think your spot print is a really cool thing. It’s conceptually sound.”
Well, that’s a relief. So for now, my spot print is staying firmly wrapped in its packaging until next month’s pay check enables me to shell out the £1,200 required to get it framed. And then? Test the auction market where my print could flop at considerable further expense to myself? Ay, there’s the rub. In the end, conscience does indeed make cowards of us all.
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