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It was repulsive and disgusting. In 1990 when it was shown publicly, Charles Saatchi, the world’s famous art collector, stood before it with his mouth agape in awe. He gave Hirst a $60,000 commission to produce his next work, a 14-foot tiger shark suspended in a gigantic tank of formaldehyde. It was titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and it became his signature artwork, an icon of 1990s British conceptual art. In 2004, Saatchi would sell Hirst’s pickled shark to a New York hedge fund magnate for a rumored $12,000,000. He achieved this with the help of 120 employees in a factory-style studio, where “original Damien Hirsts” are turned out under his supervision, but usually without ever so much touching them. He has his paintings made of spin-art that take three minutes to produce and are priced at $10,000. He has series of “dot” paintings, colorful dots on canvas, which he admits he lacks the technical skills to do them properly.
In 2003, Hirst paid $15 million to buy back of his own early paintings from Charles Saatchi in order to help control supply and demand of his seminal work. Experts could not recall any artist ever making such a wise and far-sighted investment maneuver.
In September 2008, a week after the debt crisis sank Lehman Brothers that shook financial market around the world, Hirst defied doomsayers and auctioned off $198 million worth of his own artwork at Sotheby’s, exceeding even the high presale estimates. The auction was unusual because it was the first time any artist had managed the sale of his work directly to the public, cutting out the fat commissions normally enjoyed by his London and New York dealers. He got the idea from his previous experience with Pharmacy, a London restaurant he partly owned. When the restaurant closed in 2004, he personally oversaw auctioning off everything inside it, right down to matchboxes. He raised more than $20 million that way, far more than the restaurant itself worth.
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