Artistic disintermediation

A small menagerie of new Damien Hirst pickled animals took a bow yesterday, including a new shark, a zebra, a calf with solid gold horns and hoofs valued at up to £12m, and even a unicorn – a white foal fitted with a resin horn, rather than an apparition from a fairytale.

All have been churned out by his small army of assistants this year for an auction at Sotheby’s in September which will sell more than 200 pieces. The auction is predicted to raise £65m, comfortably setting a new world record for the artist, and blazing a trail which other artists will watch with interest, of bypassing the gallery and dealer system and going straight to auction.

Both the Gagosian Gallery, and Jay Jopling’s White Cube, his American and British dealers, have given the auction their blessing, possibly through gritted teeth…

If you are a dealer this is big news and indeed bad news.  But why not?  Hirst doesn’t need gallery publicity or buyer recruitment.  Since galleries tend to sell their best works to loyal repeat buyers ("why?" is a good question), this implies that "seniority" will matter less and less for assembling a good collection.  That favors foreign buyers and hedge fund types.  Here is the link.  Here is Felix Salmon’s very good post on the economics of contemporary art.


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