Cristina Ruiz: Racing through Rome while others cross the finish line

Rome. City of Genius. Home to Bernini, Borromini, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Centre of the High Renaissance and then the Baroque. And now, thanks to the dynamic duo of Damien Hirst and Larry Gagosian, host to 18 paintings of spots in varying sizes.

Fave stop so far: Gagosian's Italian branch in a 1920s palazzo

10:15am finds me waiting outside the gallery in the heart of the city's historic centre a short walk from the Spanish Steps. As usual, I'm early and the guard posted on the door makes it clear in no uncertain terms I'm not getting in until opening time. No matter, it gives me occasion to admire the ornate colonnaded facade of the 1920s palazzo that Gagosian has chosen for his Italian outpost.

Fifteen minutes later and I get to admire the gallery inside. It is gorgeous. Without question, my favourite Gagosian branch so far. The main room is an elegant oval shape and Hirst's spots look good here. I wait until the guard is momentarily distracted and sneak a quick picture for this blog. Unfortunately, it's rubbish. But I have been reprimanded enough times on this tour, so I decide not to risk another one. Apparently, there are copyright issues if I snap a pic of the spots in situ, unless, dear reader, I am taking a photo of a friend in front of one. Or so I have been informed. So, here is my new friend, the gentleman polishing the floor of Gagosian's Roman gallery this morning.

One large canvas here intrigues me. Entitled Phe-Tyr it is dated 2004-2011. Can it really take eight years to make a spot painting? Or, is it possible, that this work was languishing in a neglected corner of the artist's studio and was then dusted off, completed, and pressed into service for this global spot extravaganza?

Later, I am chatting to the lovely girl on the front desk and I notice a price list resting casually on the tabletop, daring me to read it. And so, I feign nonchalance but sneak a glance every time my interlocutor turns away. I learn this: of nine paintings detailed on the first sheet, all are for sale and one, a small 2009 canvas with tiny dots of 0.2in, has sold for $200,000. The rest are on offer for prices ranging from $375,000 to $1.8m. Before I can glean anything further, the list disappears under a delivery of documents. Annoying.

I ask if Gagosian and Hirst have seen this show yet. Not yet; the former is expected and, possibly, even the latter.

Two gallery-goers other than me have beaten them to it. Today, two people completed the Spot Challenge by seeing all 11 shows around the world in just eight days. Art Ruby, as she calls herself, finished first in the Britannia Street gallery in London, while Jeff Chu finished in Madison Avenue and was offered Veuve Clicquot by the gallery staff, he tells us on Twitter. Several other spot seekers are also close to the end of their mission. I am in awe. I thought I was doing well but these people have positively raced around the world. Who are they? And how much did they spend? We will endeavour to find out.

Monday, on to Athens.

The running tally

Staying with friends in Rome: FREE!!!

Total today: $0

TOTAL SPENT SO FAR: $530.75

Published Fri, 20 Jan 2012 00:00:00 GMT

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9 May 12
21:34 CET

BERNIE, BRIGHTON. UK

The spot paintings are of no real signigficance. For instance, they are a bit like Wharhol's Brillo Pad boxes. I can not understand why you would jet around to see them. I assume you did it for fun rather than as a pilgrimage. I suppose the reward print you have will make an interesting conversation piece in years to come. Regards Bernie

23 Jan 12
14:56 CET

FRANCESCO, TOKYO

Best of luck Sis!!!

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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.