Hirst’s skull, a bluff: it was he who bought it

from Paola De Carolis

The most expensive work of recent art is owned by the same author, White Cube and some private investors.

LONDON The most expensive work of a living artist? He languishes in a safe in Hatton Garden, London’s jeweler district. This is where Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull rests for years. In 2007 the artist and the White Cube gallery announced the sale for 50 million pounds, a new first in a market that at the time was experiencing a golden age. For the Love of God – this is the title of the sculpture – it is still owned by Hirst, White Cube and some private investors.

“Everyone accepts the fact that a painting, the realization of which costs practically nothing, can be sold for infinite amounts”, Hirst emphasized with a touch of frustration to the New York Times on the occasion of the first exhibition dedicated to him in the US metropolis since 2018. “How can they believe in one thing but not another?”, or rather in the true and tangible value of a work made with very expensive materials (in addition to 8,601 diamonds, platinum).

Already at the time, the news of the transaction had aroused some suspicion. The purchase – it had been announced – had been made in cash. The buyer’s name was not disclosed as well as no concrete proof of sale (no receipt) was provided. A few days before, by the way, theArt Newspaper he had written that Hirst and the gallery were trying to get rid of the work at a discounted price, 38 million pounds, while some jewelers had questioned the artist’s thesis, according to which the materials had cost 15 million pounds: maximum 8, despite all those diamonds. The skull had won the crowd anyway. It had been exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, the Tate Modern, Qatar and Oslo.

If not exactly a lie, the sale was only, to be generous, a half-truth: it certainly had not damaged the reputation of an artist who, launched on the international field in the early 90s by his famous shark in formaldehyde, pushed the parameters of art towards ever new horizons, from Mother and child (divided), four showcases with a cow and a calf cut in half, to the pseudo-archaeological treasures exhibited in Venice, from the dots to the cherry blossoms recently shown in Paris. His works are among the most renowned collections, from François Pinault to the Prada Foundation, the Emirs of Qatar, the Deutsche Bank. Shortly after the history of the skull, an auction at Sotheby’s had reached a new record selling 223 works for a total of 111 million pounds.: a figure never reached before for a single artist. The sale-not sale of For the love of Godthen, can it be defined as a publicity stunt?

If Hirst is no stranger to self-promotion, he doesn’t necessarily need it: his works – unusual, often shocking, such as A Thousand Years, the head of a cow full of flies – are the expression of an artist at times disputed, by some accused of being a bluff, but never ignored. Like some of his colleagues, Hirst has now launched into the world of Nft, i non-fungible token, certificates of ownership of digital art. With the project The Currency (currency), has put up for sale 10,000 A4 sheets filled with its signature colored dots. The price is $ 2,000 each. Those who buy them can choose whether to keep the physical work or the digital token, which can be resold on various platforms. It seems that only 5% have opted for the paper version. For Hirst it was a “fascinating” experiment. “I have two thousand people online talking about it all the time,” he told al New York Times. «Tokens are always on the move, rising and falling in value. It’s like a cult and I’m the leader. “

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