Revealed: the art Damien Hirst failed to sell

On the eve of Sotheby’s auction of over 200 new works by the British artist, we disclose the extent of unsold stock held by his London gallery White Cube

As Sotheby’s prepares to auction 223 new works by Damien Hirst on 15 and 16 September, we can reveal that the artist’s London gallery, White Cube is sitting on unsold sculptures and paintings by the British artist worth in excess of £100m.

This figure excludes the £50m asking price for Hirst’s diamond-encrusted platinum skull, For the Love of God, which is owned by a group of investors whose members include Hirst himself and White Cube owner Jay Jopling.

Recent White Cube documents seen by The Art Newspaper reveal that the gallery’s stock of paintings and sculptures by Damien Hirst numbers over 200 works.

It includes 34 butterfly paintings dating from 2005 to 2008 and ranging in price from £145,000 to £2m; 35 spin paintings dating from 2005 to 2008 (£150,000 to £400,000); seven spot paintings dating from 2006 to 2008 (£300,000 to £950,000), and six medicine cabinets, one of which, The Martyrdom of St Jude, 2002-03 was included in the gallery’s 2003 exhibition “Apostles”. These range in price from £100,000 to £2.5m.

Paintings which are still available from the artist’s “Beyond Belief” exhibition held in June/July 2007 include Periodic Table of the Elements, (£3m); 13 so-called biopsy (or cancer) canvases ranging in price from £450,000 to £850,000 (a further eight biopsy paintings not shown in “Beyond Belief” are also available) and nine “Fact” paintings (showing the labour of Hirst’s wife Maia and the birth of the couple’s son Cyrus). These range in price from £500,000 to £2m.

Unsold “Natural History” sculptures from the same show are: Love’s Paradox, 2007, a cow in formaldehyde in two vitrines (£4.5m), and Black Sheep (£4m).

Signature works such as Charity, a 22-ft sculpture of a girl with a calliper holding a teddy bear, produced in three editions and first exhibited in Hoxton Square in 2003, is still available for £2.5m, as is an edition of the Virgin Mother, the 35-ft bronze statue showing the insides of a pregnant woman, originally displayed in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in 2006 (£2.5m). Another version of the latter cast in silver and entitled Wretched War—The Dream is Dead, 2007, is on sale for £1.25m.

Two editions of The Hat Makes the Man (After Max Ernst), a sculpture included in Tate Britain’s 2004 exhibition “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida”, are available for £475,000 and £950,000 respectively.

Other Hirst works with White Cube have not been publicly displayed. These include three editions of The First Relic, a platinum sculpture in the shape of a jawbone encrusted with diamonds (£1m each) and 25 versions of The Fear of Death, a human skull coated in flies and resin (£150,000 each). The gallery also has numerous prints and other multiples by Hirst for sale on its website.

Strategic decision

The quantity of art available for sale with Hirst’s London gallery helps explain why the artist has opted to take his latest work straight to auction.

For Hirst the challenge is to find enough outlets to distribute the huge volume of art he produces. His factory enterprise with its network of assistants working in multiple studios makes him one of the most prolific living artists. Only Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and some Chinese contemporary artists come anywhere near to this level of productivity (Murakami is also believed to be in discussions with an auction house).

The 223 Hirst lots on offer at Sotheby’s, estimated to fetch £65m, include most of his trademark pieces: “Natural History” sculptures of animals in formaldehyde, some adorned with golden attributes; spot, spin, and butterfly paintings; photo-realist canvases, and medicine cabinets, among others. All have been produced in the last two years.

Hirst already works with a network of galleries—White Cube in London, Gagosian Gallery in London and the US, and Galería Hilario Galguera in Mexico City. Others who do not represent him officially also sell his work and art is available directly from his studio. But the scale of his output requires him to find a steady stream of new buyers; the global reach of the auction house will have proved decisive.

“Sotheby’s promotion is not directed at existing collectors. They are targeting new buyers, especially in parts of the world which have only recently started collecting contemporary art,” says a trade source.

A selection of works from Hirst’s Sotheby’s auction will be displayed at the five-star Oberoi hotel in New Delhi next week. The show opens to invited guests on 26 August and to the public two days later. On 28 August, a further selection of lots will be shown at the Bridge Club in Bridgehampton to invited guests only.

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1 Oct 12
14:46 CET


Just think of how many thousands Mr Brainwash has in his vaults unsold.

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


It's time for the age of excess to be over.

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


Would that be considered hoarding? Rhetorical really.

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