31 Aug 2007

$100 Million For Kitsch

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A diamond-encrusted platinum skull by artist Damien Hirst has been sold to an investment group for the asking price of $100 million, a spokeswoman for Hirst’s London gallery White Cube said on Thursday.

The skull, cast from a 35-year-old 18th century European man but retaining the original teeth, is coated with 8,601 diamonds, including a large pink diamond worth more than four million pounds in the centre of its forehead.

The spokeswoman said she could give no more details of the buyer.

“Damien Hirst has retained a participation in the work — he still owns a share of it — in order that he can oversee a global tour of the work that is currently being planned,” she added.

The skull caused a sensation when it first went on display at an exhibition of new works by Hirst at the White Cube in central London on June 3 — not least because of its price tag.

Some critics dismissed it as tasteless while others saw it as a reflection of celebrity-obsessed culture.

Works by Hirst, who first made his name displaying diced and pickled animals, became the most expensive at auction for a living artist when his “Lullaby Spring” pill cabinet sold at Sotheby’s in London for 9.6 million pounds.

The skull is the most expensive piece to date by Hirst, already a millionaire several times over.

The sale of the skull brings to $350 million the value of works sold from the June exhibition. Generally the gallery takes 30 percent and Hirst 70 percent of the proceeds.

As an indication of the wealth he has amassed since being spotted in 1991 by art collector Charles Saatchi, Hirst, who financed the skull himself, said he couldn’t remember whether it had cost 10 or 15 million pounds to make.

He said from the outset he wanted the work, inspired by similarly bejeweled Aztec skulls, to be on public view.

He rejected suggestions that his works were more a standing joke against the art establishment than real works of art.

But when asked at the time of the exhibition what his next project would be he immediately replied: “Two diamond skeletons shagging — no just kidding.”


Successful exercises in this kind of imposture rest upon an art market comprised of persons lacking standards and taste with too much money.

The noisome object pictured above isn’t art. It is simply a grandiose publicity stunt designed to create the opportunity for very large wager. Hirst’s consortium customers are really betting $100 million on the near-future existence of even greater fools than themselves. Personally, I wish there was a financial vehicle one could use to bet against their scheme.

Hat tips to Dominique Poirier and David Ross.


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