Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hirst's Dealer Denies `Mountain' of Unsold Works Before Auction

By Scott Reyburn

Aug. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Damien Hirst's London dealer White Cube has denied it has a ``mountain'' of unsold works before a Sotheby's sale which previews today in the Hamptons and New Delhi.

White Cube, which has galleries in St. James's and Hoxton, east London, said in an e-mailed statement that its stock level for Hirst was normal. The Art Newspaper said on Aug. 23 that the dealer held more than 200 paintings and sculptures by Hirst, valued at more than 100 million pounds ($184.5 million), citing White Cube documents.

``The appetite for Damien's art,'' Jay Jopling, White Cube's owner, said in the statement, ``is such that we never have enough and I'm always keen to have as much work on consignment as possible.'' The market for Hirst was strong and suggestions to the contrary were based on ``redundant documents.''

The Art Newspaper said 34 butterfly paintings, 35 spin paintings and six medicine cabinets, ranging in date from 2002 to 2008, were still available, priced as much as 2.5 million pounds. The 4.5 million pound and 4 million pound formaldehyde sculptures ``Love's Paradox'' -- featuring a cow split in half -- and ``Black Sheep'' were among works left unsold from Hirst's June- July 2007 exhibition ``Beyond Belief,'' the newspaper said.

Sotheby's said its ``Beautiful Inside My Head Forever'' sale in London on Sept. 15 and 16 may raise 65 million pounds. Some of its works can be seen by the public today at New Delhi's Oberoi Hotel. An invitation-only preview also takes place on the east end of New York's Long Island at the Bridge Club, Bridgehampton, said the auction house, which has its main salerooms in New York.

`Payback Time'

``Sotheby's auction is payback time for Damien,'' said London dealer Robert Sandelson, who in the summer of 2006 hosted a selling exhibition of Hirst works acquired through secondary sources. ``He's saying to the dealers, `If you can't sell these pieces, I'll find someone who can,''' said Sandelson in an interview.

Sotheby's two-day, three-catalog event includes a menagerie of Hirst's trademark animal-in-formaldehyde pieces, including a tiger shark and a zebra with estimates of at least 2 million pounds. A calf with 18-carat gold horns is valued at up to 12 million pounds, said Sotheby's. The auction will also include 16 spot paintings, 20 spin canvases, eight spin ``cloths'' and 73 paintings with butterflies.

The auction house said its sale was of ``a whole new body of work'' that had not been previously offered by White Cube or other dealers.

Butterfly Paintings

Some art dealers have suggested that Hirst's use of more than 100 studio assistants created issues of over-production. Hirst, 43, the U.K.'s richest artist, released a video interview on Sotheby's Web site this month in which he said he is to stop making the spin and butterfly paintings that have been among his top-selling works.

``Any revelations about unsold works shouldn't affect the auction,'' said the London-based dealer Kenny Schachter, who was on the guest-list for Sotheby's preview at the Hamptons. ``Hirst and Sotheby's are looking for new collectors for this material. In the end it could help sell some of the dealers' inventory -- if it goes well.''

In addition to the 100 million pounds of unsold stock, White Cube has also yet to find a buyer for Hirst's diamond-encrusted platinum skull, ``For the Love of God,'' the Art Newspaper reported.

Skull Price

First shown on June 3, 2007, the skull was priced at 50 million pounds. In August 2007 White Cube said the skull, studded with 8,601 diamonds, had been acquired by an investment group that included Hirst himself and Jopling with the intention to ``resell the sculpture at some stage in the future.''

This week, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, said that from Nov. 1 it would be putting the skull on display for six weeks. Hirst said in an interview with Bloomberg in Kiev, Ukraine, in October 2007, that he planned to take the skull on a tour of ``the best museums around the world.''

A proposed exhibition of ``For the Love of God'' at Russia's State Hermitage Museum scheduled for March this year has been ``postponed indefinitely,'' according to the Art Newspaper.

Details of additional venues for the skull's proposed international tour will be released at a later date, said White Cube spokeswoman Sara Macdonald in an e-mail.

Frank Dunphy, Hirst's manager, said that the artist would continue to consign ``substantial bodies of work'' to White Cube, according to the e-mailed statement issued by the London gallery.

Hirst is to open a shop next to Sotheby's in London's New Bond Street, the artist's publishing company, Other Criteria, said on Aug. 26 in an e-mailed statement.

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