Analysis out of the box

Case Study - Damien Hirst

Analysis out of the boxArt Market | Today’s contemporary art market takes on board every aspect of globalisation ; the internet, new marketing techniques, new innovators. A complex ecosystem made up of different points of view, generating increasingly communicative approaches from artists who have begun to redesign their financial organisation, even going so far as to distance themselves from the galleries, traditionally the fulcrum of the market. Damien Hirst becomes a driving force in this new way of disseminating information and art, using strategies appropriated from the worlds of business and consumerism.

Damien Hirst lors de sa rétrospective à La Tate Modern, Londres © Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst lors de sa rétrospective à La Tate Modern, Londres
© Damien Hirst

Warhol : a Mould breaking pioneer

Amidst the excitement of the sixties and seventies, the American market is driven forward by the iconic American dealer Leo Castelli; whose gallery becomes a meeting place for the American avant- garde. Andy Warhol breaks away with his own creative, financial and well connected organisation, the Factory, based in a loft in Manhattan. A microcosm in perpetual ferment, it combines in one place a whole range of creative activities, at once an art gallery, a film studio and cinema, a concert venue and a night club. It is populated by the jet set, superstars and collectors, all rubbing shoulders as equals, an unhinged underground melting pot which acts as part of the creative process. At the beginning of the seventies, it becomes Warhol’s office, of which he says in his book « My Philosophy from A to B and Vice Versa » : « The art of business is the next step on from art. I started out as a commercial artist, I want to wind up as a business artist ». Warhol breaks the rules of both society and business in a quest to « create a myth ».

Damien Hirst, well connected and influential

During the 80s/90s, Great Britain was in the grip of a severe recession as well the austerity of Thatcherite politics, and permeated by an advertising culture which captures the public imagination, using the impact of striking yet simple images to convey complex messages. On the art market scene, London, like Paris, does not have the same clout as New York or Cologne. In 1985, Charles Saatchi, the advertising executive who coined the famous slogan « Labour isn’t working » for Margaret Thatcher’s election campaign, galvanizes the art scene by opening a 2,500 square metre gallery. He shakes up the art market with a policy of mass purchasing of works by artists such as Sandro Chia, the Italian Post-Avant Gardist.
It is against this backdrop that Damien Hirst; then still an art student at Goldsmith’s College, and the focal point of a new artistic crowd; organises 1988’s Freeze exhibition, a gathering of 16 Goldsmith students in a dingy Docklands warehouse, among them Bulloch, Hume and Collishaw. Saatchi launches them onto the international scene at 1992 exhibition of « Young British Artists » , a title which already sounds like a slogan.

A spirit of enterprise, a household name

His creative genius manifests itself through the constantly evolving and efficient use of management and marketing :
- Reviving the concept of the Rennaissance workshop : His studio is conceived as a modern production hub; he employs around a hundred assistants to help him realize his vision on a grand scale.
- Turning his name into a brand : He surrounds himself with pros such as Judd Tyrell, whom he entrusts with the direction of Sciences ltd (Marketing his work), or Hugh Allan, in charge of, among other things, Other Criteria (derivatives, e-commerce).
- A Maestro of Communication : highly media visible events are organised on a regular basis, the world’s most expensive production For the Love of God appears in 2007, the Complete Spot Painting visits all 11 of the Gagosian galleries prior to his retrospective at the Tate Modern in April 2012, a work entitled « Beautiful Psychedelic Gherkin exploding Tomato Sauce all over your face, Flame Grilled Painting » is offered to fast food chain Burger King during the Olympic Games, for which he also devises a monumental display consisting of a gigantic British flag.
- A financial take-over of the market : the auction of 223 of his works at Sothebys in September 2008 earns him £141,271,781. In just a few years, Damien Hirst has successfully amassed great deal of financial, media and artistic influence which helped to blow apart the traditional tropes of the Art Market.

Nina Rodrigues-Ely
Publié le 30/11/2012
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Damien Hirst lors de sa rétrospective à La Tate Modern, Londres © Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst lors de sa rétrospective à La Tate Modern, Londres
© Damien Hirst