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Damien Hirst kicks off latest mega art sale

An employee looks at the artwork 'Hydroquinone, 2006', part of the artist Damien Hirst's exhibition 'The Complete Spot Paintings' at the Gagosian Gallery on Jan. 12, 2012 in London, England. The exhibition is taking place in 11 locations across the world, with more than 300 paintings created by the artist lent to the Gargosian gallery by private individuals and public institutions.

Kai Ryssdal: Even if you don't know a whole lot about contemporary art, you might have heard of Damien Hirst. He's a British artist who -- among other things -- has decorated a human skull with $23 million worth of diamonds. He's put a 14-foot tiger shark in formaldehyde, and sliced a sheep in half.

Strange? Yes. Profitable? Oh, you better believe it.

Because even apart from his art, Hirst is known for his marketing. He launched his latest campaign today -- hundreds of what he calls spot paintings. Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith has the story.


Stacey Vanek Smith: The Damien Hirst paintings feature patterns of multi-colored spots. They all look a little like a game of Twister. Starting today, these paintings go on display all over the world, at the prestigious Gagosian galleries.

Marion Maneker: It is the return of Damien Hirst to the center of the art market. 

I visited a gallery in New York with Marion Maneker, publisher of the Art Market Monitor. He says the last time Hirst made headlines was in 2008 with a splashy auction at Sotheby’s. It took place the very day investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial crisis began. Despite the timing, it was wild success.

Maneker: He sold $200 million worth of work. That was equal to his previous two or three years of sales.

The spot show has 300 paintings, 100 are for sale — anywhere from $100,000 to a couple million. And there’s a twist: Anyone who visits all 11 Gagosian galleries, from Hong Kong to Geneva to New York, will get a signed Damien Hirst print.

Cristina Ruiz: I am in a cab on my way to the gallery.

Cristina Ruiz is an editor at London-based publication, The Art Newspaper.  She’s taking the Spot Challenge. The gallery-trotting costs thousands of dollars, still, Ruiz says, more than 300 people have signed up.

Ruiz: Hirst has made the market for art his real subject. If you think of the diamond skull, for the love of god, which he priced at 50 million British pounds.

The spot paintings are nothing new; Hirst has been producing them for more than 20 years. David Galenson is an economist at the University of Chicago. He says the real news here is the show itself and the Starbucks-style card that gets stamped with each gallery visit.

David Galenson: Hirst keeps coming up with new ideas. More in marketing than in art and it’s interesting that this is now the spot paintings rather than some new form of art. He hasn’t come up with a new form of art.  

In other words, Damien Hirst has elevated marketing to an art form.  

In New York, I’m Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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