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I've always maintained that Damien Hirst's real talent lay in marketing and selling. For me he is a classic example of an artist whose ability to work out how to market his art - and to manipulate the art market for his benefit - considerably outweighed his talent as an artist.
The False Narrative of Damien Hirst's Rise and Fall
by Felix Salmon in the New Yorker (6th December 2017)
This article is a "must read" because it highlights how Hirst has fundamentally challenged the notion of:
With the 2008 auction, Hirst moved out of the world of commodities, which are bought and sold speculatively with a profit motive, and moved into the world of luxury goods, which are bought to be consumed and enjoyed. Which is exactly what art should be!
It also focuses on the fact that by moving art sales to "direct sales" between artist and art collector, a considerable amount of art market data has moved out of the reach of those who purport to know about 'value'. All they know about now is the amounts which are in the public domain because of art sold at auction. That's not always where the important sales are done any more.
After (his 2008 auction sale) Hirst started selling his work directly to collectors, at scale, and stopped playing by the established gallery-system rules. Hirst’s galleries were furious, but there was nothing they could do about it. Freed from gallery constraints, Hirst could make the work he wanted to make, and sell it at whatever price his collectors were willing to pay.
Hirst is obviously an artist operating at the very high end of the market. He's ripped up the rule book and started to reinvent the art market.
After partnering with an auction house in 2008 to create a gigantic sale of his work, in 2017 he partnered with a Francois Pinault (the French luxury goods billionaire) and took over two museums to create an enormous thematic show and made the Venice Biennale an explicit commercial venue for buying art.
Hirst says that sales from his latest show, in Venice, reached a jaw-dropping three hundred and thirty million dollars as of early November.
One has to ask to what extent artists operating further down the food chain can do the same thing:
To my mind it's perfectly possible - but only if artists hone their marketing and selling skills as well as those related to creating art and partner with the right people and platforms.
We've already seen it to some extent with the achievements of those who have created a credible art business by selling direct to collectors online.
Now we need to see whether artists start partnering with venues to sell their art in new ways - just like Damien Hirst...
Like I said - it's a recommended read for those who acknowledge that marketing has a lot to do with how value is created in the art market.
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about art, artists and the art business and has followers all over the world. She also delivers workshops for art organisations and reviews websites and career strategies for artists.
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