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Damien Hirst involved in bizarre dispute over Bombay Mix painting

ART NEWS FROM ELSEWHERE

The man behind Ilfracombe’s Verity statue, polarising artist Damien Hirst, has demanded one of his own paintings be returned to him and destroyed, after an unusual ownership dispute.

Bombay Mix is the painting created by Hirst in 1988, an early example of his spot paintings.

Hirst is the world’s richest living artist and painted the artwork directly on to the wallpaper in a house in Fulham, London.

The owner, Jamie Ritblat, now a wealthy property developer, had the painting bought for him as a birthday present from his parents Sir John and Lady Ritblat, patrons of the arts.

But since his first spot paintings appeared, in the mid-1980s, something of a mystery has grown: just how many are there?

Mr. Hirst has said he painted the first few dozen. The others he left mainly to a coterie of assistants, who, it seemed, could make them ad infinitum.

For buyers, dealers and auction houses, the prospect of an unlimited supply was a complication. A flooded market might affect the paintings’ future value — not a small worry when they can cost as much as $3.4 million.

“Even art market professionals like myself don’t know the exact count,” said Koji Inoue, a Christie’s specialist who is in charge of its evening sales.

Now Mr. Hirst’s London company Science Ltd. will finally provide a definitive number.

This fall his publisher, Other Criteria, will release a book, a catalogue raisonné, that will show that there are exactly 1,365 spot paintings.

“All paintings are in the book,” Jude Tyrrell, an official at Science Ltd., said in an e-mail.

For Mr. Hirst, the inventory is but another example of how, as an artist and businessman, he has often sailed against the winds. At a time when experts increasingly fear putting out catalogs and authenticating art, lest they be sued by owners whose works don’t make the grade and are left out, Mr. Hirst, 48, is creating a book that could define what is — and what is not — an authentic Hirst spot painting.

The catalog, beyond providing scholarly luster, could well boost prices for the paintings, which in the past 18 months have sold for $53,000 to $1.7 million, by reassuring buyers who suspected there were many more in the series. In April The Art Newspaper reportedthat the catalog would include around 1,400 spot paintings. It could also dismay any forgers who think the spot works are particularly conducive to fakery. (In March a man was indicted in New York after being accused of trying to sell five fake Hirsts, including three fake spot limited-edition prints. He has pleaded not guilty.)

But a catalog could draw new attention to questions like whether those made by his assistants are of equal value. And while such a catalog is usually a sign that an artist or scholars are drawing a final line under a specific body of work, the spot paintings are still being made, said James Kelly, the director of Science Ltd. “Damien is working on some spot paintings with very small spots, including a painting with one million spots, which will take a number of years to complete,” he said in an e-mail.

Mr. Kelly added that Mr. Hirst would eventually follow this catalog with a complete catalogue raisonné for his entire body of work.  Mr. Hirst did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

For many experts, this catalog — along with a flurry of activity last year that included a commission for the London Olympics, a retrospective at Tate Modern in London andexhibitions of more than 300 spot paintings at 11 galleries in 8 cities — seems like an effort to turn around a career that rose to dizzying heights until 2008, when prices, and the artist’s reputation, took something of a plunge.

“He needs to regain the trust of the marketplace,” said Jeff B. Rabin, a co-founder of Artvest Partners, an art investment advisory firm. “It seems the catalog is one measure he could perhaps take to start to rectify some of the ill feeling out in the marketplace.”

Mr. Hirst has often been a polarizing figure in the art world. As part of a 1990s wave of young British artists, known as the Y.B.A.’s, he produced work — from a dead shark swimming in formaldehyde to a platinum human skull paved with 8,601 diamonds — that often provoked outrage as well as mystified shrugs.

Brought to prominence by the British advertising executive and art collector Charles Saatchi, with whom his relations, by many accounts, later grew strained, Mr. Hirst became as famous for his self-promoting style as for his work. He flouted art world custom in 2008 when he bypassed dealers and staged an auction of 223 pieces of his own work at Sotheby’s in London that September. The auction, which took place even as financial markets were crumbling, was wildly successful and helped make him one of the richest artists in the world, with a fortune said to be more than $300 million.

But Mr. Hirst, like many artists, has been hurt by the financial crisis and recession. Prices of his works at auction are down by about 60 percent since their extraordinary peak in 2007, according to Artnet, the art market information company. And the lingering effect of his blow-out 2008 auction, experts say, is that Mr. Hirst’s prices have been slower to bounce back than those of other artists.

The spot paintings — especially early ones — have tended to retain their value better than his other works, but for an artist whose ideas are often regarded as sly comments on the link between money and art, it may be disappointing that last year the value of all Hirsts sold at auction barely reached $26.5 million. In 2008 the figure was 10 times that amount, according to Artnet, showing perhaps that owners are reluctant to bring his work to market and take a loss.

As if to underline that all may not be well in his commercial relationships, he broke with the super-dealer Larry Gagosian in January.

Science Ltd. said the catalog had been scheduled for last year, with the global exhibition, but took longer than expected. Mr. Hirst’s company would not comment on whether it is concerned about possible objections from owners of works that might be omitted from the list, which is being put together in conjunction with the Gagosian galleries and White Cube, Mr. Hirst’s London gallery. As it stands, all collectors who own what they believe are Hirsts can submit them to be authenticated by the Hirst authentication committee.

“Science Ltd., Damien’s company, have a very comprehensive database of all his works, and if they were prior to our record keeping, we drew upon the extensive records for earlier spots, from White Cube gallery,” Ms. Tyrrell said. She said only 14 paintings would be included without images.

The practice of authenticating art has become fraught, encouraging continual second-guessing, though the risk for Mr. Hirst is greatly diminished by the fact that the book is being produced while he is alive, experts said. Greater trust is put on the artist’s own opinion about what is genuine.

An expert considering a spot painting’s authenticity will look at a number of things. Is it featured in an earlier, credible publication? Are there documents of provenance, like gallery labels? Does it bear a Hirst signature or stamp, or carry, as some works do, a unique identification number from Science Ltd.?

The very concept of inventorying the “genuine” spot paintings rings silly to some critics who have long complained about the mass-produced nature of Mr. Hirst’s work.

“No one was clear how many spot paintings there were — and Hirst himself didn’t know,” Julian Spalding, an author and a former director of museums in Britain and a outspoken critic of Mr. Hirst’s work, said in an e-mail. “But then why should he? They were made purely to an unbelievably simplistic and boring formula by his assistants.”

But Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international contemporary-art specialist, who was the principal auctioneer for Mr. Hirst’s 2008 single-artist sale, said such critics are missing the point. The paintings, he said, are not about mass production, or volume, or about the kind of limits implied by giving them a fixed count.

“He has made no secret,” Mr. Barker said, “of the fact that the spot paintings were an infinite series.”

For many collectors too, the number is beside the point.

Andrew Cogan, chief executive of the Knoll furniture company, owns a thin, horizontal pastel-colored spot painting about six feet long he bought around 2000.

The painting, he said, is in his home in New York and reminds him of the dot candy on paper sheets he used to enjoy as a child.

“I don’t get tired of looking at it,” he said, adding, “I assumed there were literally thousands of them.”

Originally posted on North Devon Journal on 13 July 2014

 

This entry was published on 14 July 2014 at 15:14 and is filed under art, gallery, museum, news. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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