Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Damien Hirst Struck Gold on Black Monday
By Joan Collins
I couldn't help but appreciate the irony in the contrast between last week's "Black Monday" and the massive amount of money collected by Damien Hirst in his historic solo auction at Sotheby's.
On the very same day that one of the most venerable banks of America went bankrupt, axing thousands of workers in London (and God knows how many more in NY) and causing a tsunami-like wave of shock across the financial markets, a gaggle of oligarchs and billionaires shelled out over £70 million in one night.
Not that I begrudge Damien's fees (by the end of the two-day auction he had made £111 million), nor do I disagree that investing in his work is a wise move - much better to buy a derivation of Bacon than a derivative from Merrill Lynch.
Percy and I attended the glittering party at the auction house and oohed and aahed at his work, which was impressive and witty. When we saw Damien he was extremely friendly - lots of hugs and kisses - but, again, this was before the sale so I'm sure he was doing a lot of it, lest someone turn out to be a potential buyer.
He was certainly putting himself on a limb as the first artist (Picasso aside) to gamble all or nothing by selling his work without the help of a dealer.
It was crowded not only with attractive people but with an astonishing display of art. I don't think it matters one jot that Damien employs a staff of 120 to create his works - so did many of the greats, and the staggering originality and beauty is all
My particular favourite, although often derided as commercial, was his butterfly series, particularly the impressively realistic replica of the Rose Window made entirely of butterfly wings.
But it's his more controversial and satirical pieces that distinguish Damien. His "Golden Calf" and "Diamond Skull" are essentially condemnations of how overheated and mad the art market can be. Yet seeing the "Golden Calf" I marvelled about how truly beautiful a work it is, regardless of whether it has made its point convincingly, and it sold at £10.3 million.
With world markets in crisis, house prices will plummet further and even more billions will be wiped off the pensions and savings of those who can least afford it. Yet fat cats like Richard Fuld, the CEO of Lehman who earned more than $20 million plus bonuses last year, presumably can afford to be careless with other people's money.
Last Monday proves to me that in mega-rich circles, the credit crunch amounts to a slight hiccup, while the majority of people are left gasping for breath.
Even though governments and institutions keep trying to reassure us that they are looking out for our best interests, the fact is that you can only depend on yourself.
My parents taught me always to pay cash, never get into debt and never speculate - really the only financial knowledge I possess - but it's stood me in pretty good stead.