Tag: rags-to-riches

The World’s Richest Artist (Part 2 of 3)

Do not miss out the Part 1.


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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The World’s Richest Artist (Part 1 of 3)


Damien Hirst grew up with quite impoverished background. He never knew his biological father, and his stepfather left the family when Hirst was twelve. He, being a working student in Leeds was marked by poor academic grades and a couple of arrest for shoplifting.

As a boy, he loves drawing. But he was rejected from the Art College in Leeds. He then moved to London and for 2 years, he worked as a laborer on construction sites. On his second try, finally he was admitted to Goldsmith’s School of Art at the University of London.

During Hirst’s school years, there was a recession in the Art World, and galleries weren’t taking on new talent.

In 1988, Hirst curated and organized an independent show of Goldsmiths student works in London’s desolate Docklands area. He scraped up the cash to rent out a vacant warehouse, curated the show, and printed up the programs. He made his first mark in the art world in an organizing role, as a curator, not an artist.

The art show called Freeze, and is legendary for launching the careers of a new generation of British conceptual artist. His own contribution to the show was unremarkable. It was an assemblage of cardboard boxes glued together and decorated with house paint. He was living in a public housing at the time, and couldn’t afford to actually produce some of the art he had design on his computer. Thanks to Freeze, however, he met an art dealer who was willing to front him $6,000 to execute his first substantial work.

Hirst didn’t pander and he did what he loved. He had always been fascinated by death and decay and he spent some time working part-time in a mortuary, where he sketched dead bodies. With $6,000 in hand, he produced A Thousand Years, a large glass case with the head of a slaughtered cow lying inside it. Also sealed inside the case was a colony of flies that bred maggots in the cow’s rotting flesh. Above the severed head was an electric bug zapper.


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The Billionaire Entertainer (Part 2 of 2)

Do not miss out the first part.


Le Grand Tour had been conceived as a one-year project, but Laliberte was determined to keep Cirque du Soleil going. He convinced the government to underwrite another season of shows in 1985. Outside of Quebec, however, the reaction was mixed. Shows in Toronto and Niagara Falls were poorly attended and the fledging Cirque organization ended the year of $75,000 in debt. A national tour of eight Canadian cities the following year fared much better, though, and ended with a showcase performance at the world’s fair in Vancouver.

Cirque had an informal, collaborative style of organization in which Laliberte took on the de facto role of executive producer. He kept pushing the circus’s creative staff to make the shows larger, more theatrical, and more visually lavish. Although the crowd kept growing through 1986, so did Cirque’s debt. Laliberte seemed determined to spend money that Cirque didn’t have. He went to France and brought back a gigantic new circus tent even though Cirque couldn’t pay for it. For almost three years, the fiscal management of Cirque du Soleil involved bouncing checks, wheedling creditors, and begging for government handouts.

In 1987, Laliberte booked Cirque to open the Los Angeles Arts Festival. The finances at Cirque were so shaky at the time that some members of the troupe quit over what they considered a reckless move. But Cirque quickly became the hottest ticket at the festival. All 30 performers sold out and the $19 seats were being sold by scalpers for $200.

Elton John and Francis Ford Coppola were among the celebrities who counted themselves a fans. Jane Fonda said she saw the show seven times during its two-week run. Cirque returned to Quebec with $1.5 million, its money problems a thing of the past. Within five years, Cirque shows were touring Europe and Asia. Over the next 20 years, Cirque grew into one of the largest, most profitable entertainment brands in the world

Laliberte’s story is often help up as a classic rags-to-riches triumph. His tremendous success suggest that anyone, even a street performer, who pursues a vision with hard work and determination, can end up falling into an enormous pile of money.

There is more to this story than just passion and drive. After all, plenty of passionate, creative people work hard their whole lives and still struggle to make ends meet. Laliberte isn’t a billionaire because he’s followed his passion and because he managed to hold on to a big equity stake in his business even increasing it along the way at the expense of his other partners.


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