Contemporary art United Kingdom

Decision on Hirsts leaves owners in a spin

Studio “switch in policy” over works previously auctioned for up to £73,250

Works from the same series: one sold for £51,650 in June (left), the other can’t be sold in October

Damien Hirst’s main art-producing company, Science, has asked that Phillips de Pury be more vigilant about selling works it now says are incomplete. The series in question—“In a spin, the action of the world on things”, 2002—consists of a box, containing a single painting, and a number of accompanying prints. Individual paintings and prints have appeared for sale privately and at auction.

There are said to be 68 editions in the series and London’s Tate has one of the etchings (Round, 2002) in its collection. Phillips has sold six of the paintings as stand-alone lots, including one for £73,250 in 2009 (est £50,000 to £70,000), and one for £51,650 in June at its contemporary day auction in London (this time with a lower estimate of £35,000 to £45,000). Hirst would have made around £1,700 from the June sale, as it qualified for the Artist’s Resale Right, equivalent to 4% of the work’s hammer price.

An email sent in August by George O’Dell, the head of Phillips’ contemporary art day sale in London, said: “After a discussion with the [Hirst] studio during our June auction, we are no longer able to sell these works without the accompanying prints.” He added: “This is a prerogative of the Hirst studio that we must follow.”

O’Dell’s email exchange was with the dealer John Brandler, who runs what he calls “a very small gallery” in Essex and owns three such paintings, bought on the private market for a “significant” sum. Brandler had wanted to sell an “In a spin” painting, together with a unique spot work by Hirst, through Phillips de Pury and contacted them in August. Phillips accepted the print but not the painting. O’Dell wrote: “The Hirst studio contacted us… with regards to a number of works and asked that we not sell the box top painting without the etchings as that is, in their eyes, the complete work.” He added: “I don’t deal directly with the studio and am thus unsure of their recent switch in policy.”

Phillips de Pury has since said there was a “misunderstanding on the emails”. A spokeswoman said: “Science has requested more expansive disclosure in the catalogues when partial sets are offered, which we will comply with.” Previous catalogue entries do not refer to the works as “partial” or indicate that they come from a box set.

She added that Phillips “did not want to include another spin painting” in its next contemporary art auction (October), having sold one recently, but would “be happy to offer one of Mr Brandler’s works in the future”. As we went to press, Brandler had not been contacted by Phillips, which did not comment on whether it would be contacting the buyers of the six works it had sold.

Art market lawyers said that although the owners have no contractual relationship with Hirst, it could be seen as “bad faith” that such sales have occurred before a change in procedure that could dent the works’ value. Science declined to comment.

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