Cristina Ruiz: Out, damn'd spot!

To sell or not to sell: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to hang on to my Damien Hirst spot print as it’s pretty cool or to take arms against my declining bank balance and offer it to the highest bidder?

Hirst's littlest fan

First a recap: last year I spent $3,250 of my own (very limited) funds travelling around 11 Gagosian galleries on three continents to see simultaneous shows of Hirst’s spot paintings.

…and skull, oh my!

Although we didn’t know it at the time, this multi-national multi-gallery muscle-flexing was to be Damien Hirst’s swansong with Larry Gagosian. Just a few months later, the artist and dealer parted company for reasons that remain unclear. (Officially, everyone’s really happy and wishes the other continued success and prosperity; unofficially... who knows?)

Shark and butterfly…

Like the 128 others who completed this trek, I now have my very own spot print entitled Hypothalamus Acetone Powder (edition of 128 plus 10 artist’s proofs). This is huge—59 x 53 inches—and for several weeks it remained concealed in its monolithic packaging in my hallway where animals and small children could admire it (see above).

Signed (but not cursed) by Hirst

Finally, the moment to examine the artwork arrives. I secure the assistance of a friend who is a print curator at a major museum in the US (and asks for said museum to remain unidentified as it is not happy about its staff assisting journalists in silly ventures).

Drum roll please…

A clean sheet is draped across the living room floor, our hands are washed (no gloves are worn, as apparently we need to “feel the consistency of the paper”), masses of packaging are removed and then the print is slowly, slowly unfurled. I feel like I’m about to witness the unravelling of a newly discovered Dead Sea scroll. What message will this mysterious manuscript contain?

The message, it turns out, is rather boring. The inscription I asked Hirst to write—“Dear Cristina, fuck off”—is nowhere to be seen. Instead there is a hackneyed dedication “For Cristina” next to which appear the artist’s signature and drawings of his trademark motifs: a heart, shark, butterfly and skull.

To produce the 420 differently-coloured spots on this print, 420 silk screens have been applied. It’s an incredibly labour intensive manufacturing process for something that looks machine-made; therein lies the paradox of the spots.

So, what now? To keep or not to keep?

I decide to investigate my options. First I consult Richard Lloyd, International Department Head of Prints at Christie’s. “This is a tricky object to estimate,” he advises.

“I would probably benchmark it against two similar compositions that have sold before, of roughly the same scale, called Ellipticine and Methamphetamine. With these records in mind, I would also refer to the groundbreaking sale we held of prints from the archives of Paragon Press in 2008, which included spot prints with annotated drawings—this will give an idea of the sort of premium drawings add to his prints.”

“Taking these factors into account, I would probably put it into our catalogue with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.”

Seriously? £30,000? For a Hirst spot print? In 2013? While this seems like a whopping sum to me, it’s funny how the prospect of a serious wad of cash manages to override journalistic cynicism in a matter of seconds. “When do you want it?” I enquire.

“If it was the first to appear at auction,” continues Lloyd, “then it would generate considerable interest… If it made a big price, then no doubt someone else would put theirs in, and it would probably make a little less, and if a third one came up within a short space of time it would probably make less still… you probably wouldn’t want to be the fourth or fifth person to offer it in a single year. Generally speaking, I would have thought it best to be either one of the first to sell, or one of the last.”

So, if I’m going to sell, I should be the first. But, just as I am thinking of new and innovative ways to spend my money, I discover that my ship has already sailed. An enterprising soul called Jason has managed to consign his Hypothalamus Acetone Powder to Phillips in record time. It is being offered in an evening sale in London on 27 February with a much more conservative estimate of £4,000-£6,000.

Dammit. I decide to continue my research. One London dealer, who asks to remain anonymous, advises that prints dedicated to a specific person are “hard to sell”. I would have to find a buyer with the same name as me, spelled in the same way—Italian, not Anglo-Saxon (no “h”). So, no point trying Christina Aguilera.

Another London dealer who also asks not to be named takes a different view. “I’ve sold dedicated material before and I don’t think it’s a problem. The problem is people are sick of Damien Hirst.” Ouch.

“I don’t really have much Hirst to sell right now. I got very nervous about him about 18 months ago.” Another difficulty, he (or maybe she) continues, is that the market for Hirst’s spot prints is “incredibly inconsistent”. Some prints “make $30,000, then the next one goes unsold at $7,000.”

The dealer ends on a positive note. “In the grand scheme of Hirst’s output, I think your spot print is a really cool thing. It’s conceptually sound.”

Well, that’s a relief. So for now, my spot print is staying firmly wrapped in its packaging until next month’s pay check enables me to shell out the £1,200 required to get it framed. And then? Test the auction market where my print could flop at considerable further expense to myself? Ay, there’s the rub. In the end, conscience does indeed make cowards of us all.

Published Thu, 14 Feb 2013 10:10:00 GMT

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10 Apr 13
22:5 CET

CHRIS, LOS ANGELES

Very nice. I was idly wondering the same thing. I think I remember meeting you at one of the galleries, maybe Hong Kong. (I remember your proposed dedication. I had so much trouble deciding on one for myself that I just gave up.) Haven't framed mine yet. I'll probably be holding on to it for a long while. Apparently I'm one of the only people who liked the dedication -- I thought that "♥ Damien Hirst" was cute, and I think the sketches are charming. Brilliant piece of self-advertisement. Though that 30k figure is persuasive. The one that you mentioned at Phillips apparently went for 15k, which I'd certainly enjoy having.

18 Feb 13
17:19 CET

DON SPRIGGS, RICHMOND, VA

Do NOT sell! Time is on YOUR side!

18 Feb 13
17:19 CET

KEN, FORT COLLINS, CO

Christina, just fyi your fellow Spot Chasers have a facebook group. And Count, I remember meeting you in Athens. Hope all is well. And I'm not selling mine either.

15 Feb 13
15:39 CET

GREGORYLENT, SHANGHAI

glass or no glass?

15 Feb 13
15:10 CET

VERONIKA, MONTREAL

The brilliance of art marketing today, not to mention muscle...then, at the end of the day. Secondary market? Depends on said marketing muscle.

15 Feb 13
15:12 CET

COUNT, NEW YORK

I went around the world to see all the "Spots" too. I got my print with the same remarques..your research on the potential value is 'spot on'. Good story. But I often wonder if DH put the remarques on the front of the print on purpose or simply by accident as he clearly knew how it would affect the resale value. But did he stop to think about it? We will never know .Instead of complaining, let's get all spot travelers together for a party. Maybe if Damien reads this he will host it at house!

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Cristina Ruiz

Over the next six weeks, Cristina Ruiz, our editor-at-large, has taken up the challenge to try to visit all 11 Gagosian galleries showing Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. Follow her as she blogs about her travels here.