Did the Art Bubble Burst ?

Posted on November 25, 2008


  • Or did it just float away.

The recession has arrived in the once unlimited high priced art market of just a few months ago. Art’s too expensive said Damien Hirst after his painting of four skulls that was estimated to sell for around 3 million dollars in New York this November did not sell. The work “Beautiful Artemis Thor Neptune Odin Delusional Sapphic Inspirational Hypnosis Painting had No Buyer.

But don’t despair Hirst is estimated to be worth 200 million pounds, so he will be just fine.

Damien Hirst with Friend

Damien Hirst with Friend

Who Is Damien Hirst? http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/hirst_damien.html

  • But those who have invested in high priced art recently while the market seemed to be a safe haven for their money may not come out of this Depression unscathed.

Hirst says in a philosophical way that this is what Artists really want.

  • “People who bought things are not going to sell them that day. That is what an artists wants, for people to hang the works on their wall”. As an artist, you don’t stop making art because people are not buying”, said Hirst.

If you are a working Artist then you must see the humor in this current art market situation. If you are a buyer enjoy your gutted cow, on your wall.

  • First if you are a working Artist, Recession is a way of life, Recession is ever present in your career.

Most of us are not Damien Hirst’s. Most of us just struggle to keep working and yeah we make art even if no body is buying. And yeah we all hope that someone will come along and appreciate all of our hard work and ideas and buy our art to hang on their walls.

  • But art has become an investment for many buyers, art is not an aesthetic thing for them.

Art is a commodity, goods for investment and exchange. And with the recent decline in the financial markets it was hoped to be a safe haven for their money.

  • But that idea, that kind of thinking about art left most of us out in the cold begging for paint so we could go on making art even if no one was buying. At least we have the skills to make signs,
  • “Will Make Art for food”…!

Perhaps those art investors will trade for signs that say, “Will work for a Hirst or Picasso”. But where will they stand with their signs, at Wal-Mart or Sotheby’s?

  • Now I don’t want you to think I am trashing Damien Hirst, I really am not.

I’d take 3 million for a painting in a heart beat. Hirst is a remarkable Artist and Art Marketing Genius, no doubt about it!

  • The Collectors and Dealers are part of the “Art Market”, a market that is driven by it’s own forces.

Sometimes by forces that are brutal and sinister.

Happy Collector's

  • Adolf and the boys murdered thousands of Collectors and Art Dealers for their art collections during WWII. But this is just a foot note in how sinister the art market can be to make a point.

Read about the PBS documentary, “The Rape of Europe”, great art in the grip of the Nazis. The program airs or aired respectively Monday November 24 th on PBS.


  • So back to you and me as working artists.

How do we deal with this art market. Most of us are asked to pay to show our work by galleries, museums, art shows. We are expected to do all the work and then pay to exhibit our work. We even are expected to pay fees just to get someone to look at our work.

  • These fees are part of the SUBMISSION applications for art shows.

And yes I am as guilty as any other curator who has produced art shows or art fair and art auctions. When I worked in the museum field we asked artists to pay fees to look at their work, to pay for shipping and framing and we expected to take our cut if the work sold. But it did bother me as an artist and I did except it as a curator who wanted to produce a show, and raise money for a fund raising art fair. Frankly as a Non-Profit art organization we needed the money to keep operating. And so I could as a curator justify my behavior.

  • After all it is how the market works, isn’t it.

It is SUBMISSION to the market forces. I can tell you that it is a part of the market that weighs heavy on the minds of many curators and art directors in non-profit gallery’s and museum’s around the country. But they have to keep their organizations going, so they continue to do what works, for themselves.

  • But who’s at fault?

Someone came up with the ideas to charge these fees and we artists agreed to the pay them. And so the rest of the story is history.

  • And how much money have you made as an artist paying to show your work, did you gain the respect; notary you had hoped for?

Did your career advance or did you just buy another line on a resume; so you could pay to show your artwork in another show that you paid to show in?

  • Recently I was solicited by a gallery that wanted to represent me.

I won’t name the gallery or state, but I will tell you about the offer, which I thought about and investigated seriously.

The gallery charges a yearly fee of $800 dollars, Then an exhibition fee of $1200, Then a Framing Fee if needed, estimated at my price for 20 paintings at about 4750. dollars. I would pay shipping to and from the gallery. Most of my work is large and I estimate shipping and crating to be in the $5000. dollar range. Then add insurance another $1000. and the total cost to get a show $12,750. dollars. And then they want a meager 30% commission on all sales.

  • Not a bad deal really, is it.

So if I sold say all 20 paintings, yeah right; I could gross $50,000. less $12,750 for costs leaves $37,250 which is what I would pay commission on which is $11,175.dollars. That would leave $26,075 which then if I take material and labor $8. dollars and hour off, $12,550, that leaves $13,525 profit, not bad. The only problem is I have to invest $12,750. up front and I would have to sell all 20 paintings.

  • But why would a for profit gallery be expected to take the chance on me without any financial risk on my part?

Business is business after all and this is where Damien Hirst excels. He makes that investment, he takes those risks and he has been fortunate up to now and I think he will continue to be successful.

  • As an artist I may be fooling my self about the time I or you put into your work so the Minimum wage may be a fantasy. And my sales may not be as strong as say Hirst’s. And then there is the reality that if I invest $12, 750. dollars into a show I might just need that sign, only mine will say,

“Won’t Lie I Need a BEER”.

You read this far and thought I had the answer, sorry dudes I don’t but would appreciate yours.

  • But back to Hirst, he says he is willing to sell for less because the Big Bubble floated out of the auction house.

So what is his next idea, it is a different market and a different market tactic. He is looking to capture the middle and the lower end with volume.

  • He has opened a store “ Other Criteria”, 36 Bond Street, London, England and on line.


Hirst offers goodies from $30 pounds to well thousands. You can buy prints, Photographs, Tee shirts and sculpture. Marketing to the masses.

But to be sure many of the items are affordable for most budgets and are worth looking at if you want a Authorized Damien Hirst. He also carries the work of other artists in the shop. I like the Tee Shirt, MENTAL on the front and HEALTH on the back by Rachel Howard, in red of course.

I don’t care much for the FLASH gallery it loads to slow.

You can get a poster of the Diamond Encrusted Skull that was produced for the show “Beyond Belief” at White Cube designed by Hirst for 30 pounds among others. And you can get Prints like “All You Need is LOVE LOVE LOVE” Silk Screened, thats the heart with butterflies for 9500 pounds. Really not a bad price when you consider Hirst fetched I think around 6 million for one of the original paintings.

  • Yes the Recession has arrived and Damien Hirst like us is ready to chip away at the market bit by bit to make ends meet.

But then you and I have been here in this depressed bubble for well, EVER.

So what worked for Hirst, how did he succeed, what did he do or realize that we all missed? Some people say, well Hirst does not do his own work he has an Art Factory. True so did Tiffany and hundreds of other artists throughout history, didn’t they. Even Di Vinci got his start in an Art Factory, only it was called something else because factory’s hadn’t been invented yet. So as for Hirst that was a good idea, volume has rewards.

But is that why we make art, is that why we should make art.

  • Hirst and his mass production and marketing and his work is ART, I think.

The Hirst phenomena is art itself. A reflection of the society that we have become. Raw and open Hirst’s work slaps us and the collector in the face, but we didn’t notice because it is what we are. We have become Gutted Cows or perhaps Sheep. We follow the trend. We Consume and Consume. Damien just brings it all home and it is gobbled up like the Thanksgiving Turkey. And we come back for seconds. Does this make him bad, no it just makes him smart.

  • So I ask.

What could I do with that 12,750 dollar investment, what could you do, What could 10 of us together do with that money. We are all going to spend some amount of money over the next year and if that money were pooled together what could emerge?

  • How many artists do you know that are trying to make a living or want to make a living.

How many $25 dollar fees and shipping costs will you spend this coming year to show your work. 10 times the investment I talked about for that proposed gallery show is &127,500 dollars.

  • Could you and your friends start your own version of an Art Factory, Gallery.

For that kind of investment you could hire a sales assistant to staff the operation while you produce art.

  • You will spend the money any way and you know you will.

We have all SUBMITTED to the system as it is today. But we have a chance to change that system if we choose too. Damien Hirst used the existing system to his benefit very successfully, now he perhaps sees the next evolution.

  • Imagine if collectors started buying original art to live with, Imagine if your neighbors became those collectors, people who want art for it’s “Artistic Life Quality” value above it’s market worth, “Art For Art’s Sake”.

  • Wait that could be arts market value? “Quality of Life”.

The possibilities are limited only by our imagination by our submission to what is the system.

Now if your a gallery owner who wants to give me a show because you have faith you can sell my work, because you have buyers that you feel will buy my work and you are willing to earn your 50% commission then call me, or write me or email me. And we will talk and perhaps reach an mutual agreement to both our benefits. Oh just kidding I got a check book.

  • But this article is for you the working, living artist, who needs to make a living and a living wage.

But going it alone is hard and often unrewarding. Think about collaboration, talk to other artists you know.

We have been taught not to sell our work, not to collaborate to be individuals. To be teachers, it’s a job that has a pay check. Just ask a university art professor, who just invested $100,000 dollars into their education. Who works a job so they can be an artist as you and I do at what ever pays the bills.

But we do need each other and each other’s talent and ideas to succeed. And if the current system works for you keep on keeping on.

For the rest of you and for me, “What’s New, What is New, What Can Be New, Changed or Perhaps Recycled. ( History ? ) Arts and Crafts movement?

Recycle Ideas, Renew, Reuse. Maybe that’s a Green statement. It could be green in your pocket?

  • I know an Art Dealer who only represents deceased artists. They don’t talk back or have new ideas or opinions or make new work. I am not ready to sign with him either.

Related Stories/Links


Is investing in Art a Safe Haven for Your Money, “Is Art the New Gold”? by david eubank October 2008


Do the Arts Need a National Bailout?