March 18, 2012
Investor confidence is the key to understanding the unprecedented Gagosian show of Hirst's spot paintings. Hirst's atelier has been turning these out at every scale since 1986, and by the artist's own estimate there are around 1,400 in existence, of which Gagosian was showing 300 under the faux-definitive title The Complete Spot Paintings. They are made by Hirst's assistants to a simple aesthetic rule – the colour sequences of the dots must be "random". ... Many of them are technically difficult to execute, such as the piece completed for the Gagosian show that comprises 25,781 one millimetre spots that the poor bloody assistants had to paint without repeating any single colour. Examples have sold at recent auctions for between $800,000 and $3m. This is to say that they are valued like unique, individual works of art, yet are made in quantities – and using methods – that seem to deny this fiction. ...Hari Kunzru in the Guardian.
If I were Larry Gagosian ... and I wanted to help my top client shore up the value of a body of work ... what would I do?
Long-term value in the art world depends in a certain raw way on scarcity, but is largely produced through a delicate process by which aesthetic value (determined by curators and critics) intersects with market value, determined ultimately by auction prices. One point at which these two types of value intersect is in provenance. The story behind an object – its past owners, where it has been shown, its place in the story of the artist's career, and so on – confers both types of value. A landmark show, geographically dispersed in an unprecedented way, is bound to be remembered as a significant moment in Hirst's career as a global art star. When that show is accompanied by a critical apparatus, chiefly a catalogue raisonnée (a meticulously documented list of works shown, accompanied by scholarly essays), those works become part of a canon and a magical walled garden of significance is erected around them.
As Francis Outred, Christie's European head of contemporary art, told the Economist, this catalogue "could bring reassuring clarity to the question of volume". The pharmaceutical paintings are frankly too financially valuable to too many people for their actual status (banal, mass-produced, decorative) to intrude on the consensus fiction that they are scarce and important. The owners of the 1,100 paintings not in the Gagosian show should be nervous, though. They just lost their AAA rating.