Hirst's London art sale defies economic blues

Tue Sep 16, 2008 1:47pm EDT
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By Neal Parsons

LONDON (Reuters) - Multi-millionaire artist Damien Hirst wildly exceeded expectations on Tuesday with a record-breaking sale of 218 items for 111 million pounds ($198 million), underscoring the resilience of the high-end art market.

A further two items were sold privately on Monday and three remained unsold on Tuesday after the unprecedented sale that bypassed the traditional dealer network and instead went direct to the auction rooms of Sotheby's in London.

"It is iconic; inherently British," said one bidder at the Sotheby's auction who asked to remain anonymous. "His work challenges people, and visually it is stunning."

Despite a global economic downturn, the auction put paid to fears Hirst's mammoth clear-out sale could flood the art market and hit prices. After taking 70.55 million pounds on Monday night, a morning and an afternoon sale on Tuesday brought in a further 41 million pounds.

Auction houses have been appealing to "recession-proof" buyers in the Middle East and Russia, where record oil prices have boosted already massive fortunes, along with the super-rich in emerging economies such as India.

By auctioning his work, Hirst can expect a far greater share of the money raised.

The two-day sale set a record for an auction dedicated to one artist. Sotheby's said it was 10 times the previous record set in 1993 for 88 works by Picasso.

The low-end estimate for the two-day sale by the artist, who is believed to be a dollar billionaire and is best known for his diced and pickled quadrupeds and, most recently, a 100 million dollar diamond-encrusted skull, was 65 million pounds.   Continued...

<p>A visitor looks at "The Golden Calf" by artist Damien Hirst at Sotheby's in London in this September 8, 2008 file photograph. Hirst's bull in a tank of formaldehyde with its head crowned by a gold disc sold for 10.35 million pounds ($18.6 million) on September 15, 2008, a record a auction for one of the contemporary art world's stars, Sotheby's said. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/Files</p>