Damien Hirst, the world’s richest modern artist, set 1,000 physical works of art on fire this week – streaming them live online. Like many modern artists, his goal is to challenge traditional conceptions of art through his works. But he’s also a savvy business owner who knows how to create the kind of buzz that will draw the attention of wealthy buyers to his works.
Hirst, who works with a variety of mediums – everything from diamonds to skulls to dead animals – focuses many of his pieces on mortality. It’s been positively received by critics in the past – particularly in the 90s – but many in the art world soured on it over the years, as it seemed to be focused on profit rather than creation. , or because they felt his later works didn’t pack the same punch.
Hirst doesn’t seem to care, and he’s still making a profit. He once dismissed the artistic community as just people “Drink wine and eat cheese.” But despite all of his controversial pieces (some of his most famous works are animal carcasses preserved in formaldehyde and colorful spot paintings that some call simple and others simply brilliant) and open rejection of the mainstream art scene , Hirst is not a rebel without a cause – and this cause makes money doing what he loves. His piece, “The Golden Calf” went for $18.6 million in 2008 – part of a record sale at Sotheby’s for a single artist.
This week, he once again challenged the art world by destroying “permanent” is working towards more ephemeral NFTs through the project he calls “The Currency”. Buyers of the collection had a year to decide whether they wanted to keep the physical painting or have Hirst engraved and given the rights to an NFT version. It was a brilliant business decision, says Martin Krupp, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy and art business expert at ESCP Europe.
Krupp regularly uses Hirst in his courses as an example of how to set up a successful business model.
“He has a controlled way of breaking taboos that has been financially successful,” Kupp said. “Add to that that he is very innovative on all the fundamental strategic questions that a company must answer: Who do you serve as a customer? What product do you offer? And how do you deliver this product? said Kupp, who also wrote The Fine Art of Success, about what the business world can learn from contemporary artists like Hirst.
Here are five ways Hirst bridged the business world with the art world and made big profits doing it:
It targets customers with means that want a recognizable product
Hirst’s most recent move to let buyers choose the original or an NFT and burn the originals is what Kupp said was likely “pure publicity” to create buzz around his products among buyers he hopes . It’s not a new idea. Banksy’s ‘Girl with Ballon’ was auctioned off and famously shredded immediately after purchase. The demographic that Hirst is looking for in this case, Kupp said, likely includes cryptocurrency millionaires, hedge fund managers…really anyone of means who is interested in blockchain, Web3 and, yes, NFT.
“When I see who’s picked it up in the past, it’s oil oligarchs from Saudi Arabia and hedge fund managers from New York. You get this class of super nouveau riche, and he absolutely takes care of them. .
It’s buyers who see art as an investment, Kupp said, rather than people looking to spruce up their homes: “You invest in a Hirst because the price will go up.” But they’re not so intrusive that most people don’t go, he says; they’re just the right amount of controversy.
It’s also about showing the world how much money you have. “You buy a Hirst, you show the world that you can afford a Hirst,” Kupp said.
He knows the advantage of playing with supply and demand
At the height of the fame of Hirst’s spot paintings (arguably what he is best known for), there were fears that he (and his assistants who also made them under his direction) were flooding the market. Why pay millions for a painting when everyone else has a similar product?
He responded with a catalog showing exactly how many were in the collection to appease those who had invested (or might invest in the future).
Hirst also said the series was over — a smart move from a business standpoint, Kupp said. “He said, that’s it, I’m sick of the one-off painting – which, from a business perspective, was something [because it created an immediate demand].”
A few years earlier, during a massive sale of his works by Sotheby’s – 223 to be exact – entitled “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”, Hirst declared that he would no longer do his well-known butterfly paintings and that he there wouldn’t be as many dead animals or one-off paintings – driving up demand, The New York Times reported in 2008.
And during an exhibition by Hirst at the Tate Modern art gallery in London in 2012, his famous diamond-encrusted human skull, titled “For God’s Sake 2007”, was on display in one of the vast hallways of the Tate. But Hirst created an airport-like demarcated queue so people couldn’t just walk up to it in the hallway to see it; they had to queue.
“It’s the whole thing of having to stand in line to see this art. There are other ways to display it. Right? The Mona Lisa has no queue in front. So it’s a choice. It’s a social choice: if everyone is lining up for something, I have to see it too. I think he knows those mechanics, or he’s very intuitive,” Kupp said. The queue also makes it rare, he added. If you want to see it, you have to wait – which means it won’t be available to everyone.
He understands the value of product placement
Some of his most popular pieces aren’t so much about design or beauty, but taking something out of context.
Kupp said that when he lived in Berlin, he took his children to the natural history museum there, which contained a number of animals in formaldehyde. But, he said, when Hirst put pieces exactly like that in an art museum, it’s suddenly a controversial, edgy piece of art with a flashy title.
Another way he played with the location was when he refused to put his work in an art museum — saying that’s where the art gathers dust, Kupp said. And while he reneged on that promise – with an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and (as mentioned above) the Tate Modern in London – he seemed to do so on his terms, with the queues and the setup, Kupp said.
It eliminates unnecessary expenses
Hirst often made the controversial decision to skip the art gallery system of selling paintings and selling directly to collectors. This had the triple effect of making him appear like the average art buyer’s champ and earning him more money, Kupp said.
“It seems sad that artists don’t make money,” Hirst said of becoming the first artist to sell directly at Sotheby’s. “If you tell someone that the galleries take 50%, they will be shocked. In any other business, that’s an exorbitant amount of money. I never thought that made much sense.”
“He was saying, I’m democratizing art for everyone,” Kupp said.
It is constantly evolving in an attempt to stay relevant and in the public eye
Hirst is so continually innovating, Kupp said. He’s “not the first out there, but still tweaking and tweaking” to stay in the discussion.
“One of the things I love [about Hirst as a business model] is that people have an opinion about him. Some people love it, and some people hate it. Very few people don’t care. It’s either “Oh, he’s marketing a bloodbath, or he’s one of the greatest artists in the world.” So it’s polarizing.
Not only is this helpful for Kupp when trying to engage his students, he said, but also for Hirst trying to stay in the news.
Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for writing this article.