Float like a (dead) butterfly, sting like a (dead) shark

At the onset and height of financial crisis, Damien Hirst has done something interesting. There is a series of Times articles (thanks Carol Vogel for doing the heavy lifting) about the anticipation towards, and outcomes from, Hirst’s “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” sale at Sotheby’s London.

The sale was significant for a few reasons. First, it is the first time a major contemporary artist has bypassed the dealer infrastructure and gone for sale straight to auction. Usually, auctions are reserved for the ‘secondary’ or ‘re-sale’ art market, while dealers were the primary art market. But the 223 works that Hirst put up for sale is a pretty remarkable attempt to transform the conventional means for selling art. Second, the sale began the Monday after the weekend Lehman went bankrupt and Merrill Lynch was swallowed by Bank of America. And third, the sale was a white-glove affair – all lots sold – for $200.7 million, over the high estimate of $177.6 million.

There is more to say about this sale, but for now this has to stand in as a marker that it’s something to come back to. When Takashi Murakami goes straight-to-auction next, and then the primary/secondary art markets distinction collapses, and the art world goes through an institutional shift, we might be looking back at this as, you know, important. Or, not.

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