It’s a true sign of the times: Damien Hirst, an artist infamous for creating works of art which were notable mainly for their in-your-face monetary excess, is now fashioning pieces for $5.
Hirst has always had a genius for gauging the wind of public opinion: He came to prominence with works calculated to shock—sharks and cows cut open and preserved in huge tanks; just before the present collapse in the art market, he unloaded a diamond encrusted skull for $150 million. In September, he created shock waves when he by-passed his longtime gallery and sold a complete show, “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” a lot of 54 pieces, at Sotheby’s. It raised $198M, breaking a record for a one-man show.
And now that the collapse has come, he has opened two stores selling Hirst-created knick knacks, from $5 key rings to prints at a cool $6,500. (Not cheap, but not as steep as usual: The original works pictured in the prints—shelves lined with handmade replicas of pills—have gone for as much as $19 million. In selling the $150 million skull, Hirst broke his own record, for most expensive piece made by a living artist.)
As Hirst told Bloomberg News: “Other Criteria (his merchandising arm) makes objects and books created by artists to an exceptional standard. I don’t think art has ever been as popular as it is today and Other Criteria aims to sell affordable art of the highest quality to everyone who wants it.” One branch of the store sits, with appropriate cynicism, next to Sotheby’s auction house in London; the newest one is in the tony Marylebone district.