Thirst for Hirst leads to $212M sale

British bad boy artist Damien Hirst, already a multimillionaire, has earned $212.8 million over the last two days through a London auction of his work.

British bad boy artist Damien Hirst, already a multimillionaire, has earned the equivalent of $212.8 million over the last two days through a London auction of his work.

As financial markets were roiling, Hirst proved the thirst for his work continues unslaked.

More than 21,000 collectors and celebrities streamed through Sotheby's London auction house ahead of the two-day sale, to see Hirst's work and consider buying pieces by one of Britain's most sought-after artists.

The biggest prices were set in the first day of the auction — with The Golden Calf, a bull in a tank of formaldehyde, selling for $19.7 million and The Kingdom, a pickled tiger shark, selling for $18 million.

Hirst is best known for his animal figures floating in formaldehyde and a series featuring colourful butterflies under glass. Both series were offered in the Sotheby's sale.

On the second day of the sale, the total take was around $78 million.

Among the items sold:

  • $4.4 million for The Dream, what appears to be a unicorn floating in formaldehyde.
  • $3 million for Reincarnated, made of butterflies and household glass.
  • $3.1 million for Unknown Pleasures, a sculpture of gold-plated steel and manufactured diamonds.
  • $2.1 million for The Incredible Journey, a zebra in formaldehyde.
  • $243,000 for 28th Psalm, made of butterflies and glass.

In all 218 of his works sold, out of 223 offered for auction.

By selling through an auction house, instead of through a commercial dealer, Hirst keeps a larger stake of the price.

However, he ran the risks of flooding the market with his work and of getting much lower prices if collectors were spooked by tough financial news elsewhere.

"Damien is so prolific, and the hype around him breeds more hype," one bidder said in an interview with the Reuters news agency. "I think almost the fact that he can produce this work so fast, and on such a scale, makes them valuable."

Hirst fans point to the great beauty of the works and the opportunity to own something by one of Britain's most prominent artists.

But some remained unimpressed.

"Sometime in the future people will be laughing their heads off at all this," said Charles Thomson, one of a group of artists who call themselves the Stuckists and oppose much modern conceptual art.

"Actually, quite a lot of people are right now. One of them is Damien Hirst, on his way to the bank."

With files from the Associated Press