Damien Hirst, the renowned leader of the Young British Artists, has a penchant for exploring the weird and the wonderful. The Golden Calf, for example – an animal in a formaldehyde container adorned with eighteen carat gold horns and hooves – unquestionably encompasses a place on the wacky side of the contemporary art word. His spot paintings – quite literally an amalgamation of several multi-coloured spots placed across a white canvas – are among Hirst’s most recognizable works, yet are still capable of stifling even the most enthusiastic art aficionado. Nonetheless, many of Hirst’s artworks, whether one loves them or loathes them, have sold for an exceptional amount of money. His diamond encrusted 19th century skull – entitled For the Love of God – was valued at £50m in 2007.
Recently, though, in a small village in Devon, there was a relatively low-priced sale for a memorable piece. One of Hirst’s doodles – which was at one time simply a kind note to a generous friend – was sold at auction for a rather modest price. It was sold for enough, however, to give one gallery owner a reason to smile after having a pretty rough month.
On the evening of Tuesday, January 14th, someone burgled a charming, family-owned auction house in Ottery St Mary. Ottery Auction House, owned by David Sumner, was said to have been affected by the break-in. Sumner claimed that it had a ‘massive impact’ on their small business. The perpetrators acquired hundreds of gold and silver items, among other things, that were due to be sold at auction on January 16th.
What they overlooked, however, was the framed doodle by Hirst – the main attraction at the auction house. Indeed, if one looks at this work, one would be excused for thinking that it would take up too much space even in the most capacious getaway vehicle – it is quite literally a doodle. Nevertheless, at the auction – which went ahead as planned despite the break-in – Hirst’s doodle sold for £2,700. This was the highest amount received for a single item in Ottery Auction House’s history.
Mr Sumner previously estimated the piece at roughly £500 and was understandably delighted when it sold for nearly six times that price. Mr Sumner claims that the community had supported his auction house in the aftermath of the break-in and this may have been a decisive factor with regards to the inflated selling price. Mr Sumner demonstrated his appreciation when he humbly said that ‘everyone has been really supportive; everyone who has heard about it in town has been great.’ The burglary helped Mr Sumner realize that Ottery Auction House is surrounded by some considerate residents.
Furthermore, Ottery Auction House has received a lot of attention because of this story, and this will undoubtedly help the police with their investigation. National newspapers have reported about the original Hirst doodle and the articles have often attached a section at the bottom appealing to those with information to come forward and contact the local police department. Thus the interest surrounding Hirst’s doodle may indeed help the police track down those responsible for the break-in.
In the past few days, it was revealed that an unnamed, west country-based art collector ultimately bought the piece – which was somewhat appropriately signed, ‘For Col, it’s a strange world. Love, Damien Hirst’. The lady who purchased Hirst’s work had apparently seen the doodle on the news and deemed it unnecessary to view the piece before she procured it. It would seem that this person has bought an artwork that, while possessing little aesthetical value, has a unique and charming history.
To what extent does the history behind the artwork account for the value of the piece?