September 15, 2008 / 8:37 PM / 10 years ago

Record start for artist Damien Hirst's London sale

LONDON (Reuters) - Damien 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 Monday, a record at auction for one of the contemporary art world’s stars, Sotheby’s said.

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

The 43-year-old British artist stunned the art world when he said 223 new works would be auctioned by Sotheby’s in London in the first mass sale of its kind by a major artist.

The works on offer in the two-day sale called “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” were created over the past two years and are expected to raise more than 65 million pounds.

They include Hirst’s trademark animals in formaldehyde, butterfly and spin paintings, variations on pill cabinets and preparatory drawings.

The sale price for Hirst’s “The Golden Calf,” the bull which also has its hooves and horns cast in 18-carat gold, was within the 8-12 million pound estimate.

However, several of the first works to sell on Monday easily surpassed their guide prices.


“The Kingdom,” a tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, fetched 9.56 million pounds, way above the 4-6 million estimate. “Afterlife,” a butterfly painting, went for 1.39 million, double the 500,000-700,000 guide price.

Hirst’s previous record at auction was his medicine cabinet “Lullaby Spring” which sold for 9.65 million pounds in 2007.

Hirst has been unapologetic about mixing creativity with cash despite accusations he is producing only for profit. One commentator referred to the auction as a “clearance” sale.

By taking his new works straight to an auction house, Hirst is cutting out the art galleries that he says take an “extortionate” amount of the proceeds, or up to 50 percent.

He has argued that if the sale raises tens of millions of pounds, at a time when the art market is booming despite economic gloom elsewhere, it may attract more people to art.

Hirst also has come under fire from some top critics, including Australia’s Robert Hughes, who has called his art “tacky” and “absurd.”

The sale coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Freeze exhibition in London which launched the careers of Hirst and some of his fellow “Young British Artists.”

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