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Damien Hirst prepares to unleash another blizzard for buyers

British artist Damien Hirst will fill 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide with shows of his 'Spot' paintings, many for sale. But how much is too much?

December 10, 2011|By Jori Finkel, Los Angeles Times

One new work that he says will be ready in time for his Gagosian shows: a canvas of about 12 by 16 inches, featuring 18,000 spots. Not yet ready: a painting he is planning with one million dots, and another with two million that he projects will take four assistants four and a half years to finish.

At present, he says he has already made about 1,400 spot paintings, to be published in a full catalogue raisonné at the time of his gallery shows.

It's enough to make most artists' concerns about flooding the market, not to mention the classic model of supply and demand, seem rather quaint. Doesn't he ever worry that the market just can't absorb another round of spot paintings?

A fast talker, Hirst offered several answers within a couple minutes.

"Who knows what a market is?" he said. "You learn by doing, really. If I put a painting outside a bar at closing time, and it's still there in the morning, it's a crap painting. With spot paintings, wherever you leave them, people are going to take them out of the dumpsters. It's an intrinsic thing that has nothing to do with how many you make."

He went on to tell a somewhat cryptic story about Larry Gagosian, without commentary. "I remember Larry once phoned me up, and he said he was worried about my production. He said: You are making too many paintings. And then, at the end of the conversation, he said: We need more paintings."

Hirst then recalled an early trip to L.A. "I remember flying into L.A. at a time when my paintings were 20,000 to 50,000 pounds and looking at the swimming pools here and thinking everyone who has a pool can afford one of these. The market is so much bigger than anyone realizes."

He also made an argument in favor of ubiquity. "You also have to ask yourself as an artist, 'What would be more appealing … to have made the Mona Lisa painting itself or have made the merchandising possibilities — putting a postcard on everyone's walls all over the world? Both are brilliant, but in a way I would probably prefer the postcards — just to get my art out there."

Then, winding down, Hirst took a more analytical approach: "I've looked at the amount of artworks I've made in my life: 4,800, not including prints. I know Warhol did 10,000 not including prints, and Picasso did 40,000. So I have a way to go."

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