British locomotives



Bansky and Damien Hirst – two locomotives of the British Contemporary art scene – pushed the art auction world into new territory with impressive records back in 2008. For many, those records epitomized the excesses of the art market before the collapse of Lehman Brothers precipitated the market into a downward spiral in the fall of that year. Bansky and Damien Hirst rarely hit the headlines nowadays, but we take a brief look at what has happened to these signatures since 2008.

Bansky is holding up discretely

The English artist BANKSY substantially contributed to Street Art becoming a profitable new segment of the art market. After the neck-breaking acceleration of his prices and his million-plus results in 2008 (including a record of $1.7m [$1.87m incl. fees] at Sotheby’s New York for Keep it spotless), Banksy suffered a sharp correction with some works selling for half or even a third of their acquisition prices. However, better-than-expected results during 2014 suggest that Banksy may be returning to the forefront of the London art market. Of these, the best results have been generated by sculptures: on February 10, 2014, Philips sold his Happy Shopper (a smart women carrying smart shopping bags on a pedestal) for the equivalent of $689,000 ($831,000 including fees), twice its pre-sale estimate. Philips also managed to sell his Submerged Phone Boot (a half-buried telephone booth) for nearly a million dollars ($960,000 and $1.1m incl. fees) on October 15, 2014. Bansky’s irreverent contrasts still appeal to major collectors, although the latter are clearly more selective than in the past and refuse to overpay. This is reflected in his US unsold rate which has evolved from 25% in the very bullish 2005-2008 period to 34% over the years 2009-2014. Signs of his recovery have continued this year with a spray painting entitled Smiley Copper (an armed policeman with a smiley face) fetching four times the amount it was acquired for in 2009. Smiley Copper sold for the equivalent of $67,000 on February 12, 2015 at Bonham’s in London. Auctioneers have clearly decided to re-inflate Bansky’s market with a policy of attractive and affordable prices.

Damien Hirst is dragging his feet…

In 2008, Damien HIRST’s auction total was higher than Claude Monet’s and Alberto Giacometti’s! Hirst was the most media-exposed artist at the time and probably subject to the most intense speculative buying with no less that sixty-five million-plus results, generating 230 million dollars in annual auction turnover… On September 15 and 16 of that year – taking full advantage of his flair for business – Hirst short-circuited the market by selling his works directly to the public (and collectors) in a private solo auction at Sotheby’s entitled Beautiful inside my head forever. The sale generated a new record for the artist when his Golden Calf (in formalin) fetched £9.2m ($17.1m).
Between 2008 and 2014, Damien Hirst’s annual auction total fell from $230m to $18.8m, relegating the artist from 4th place to 108th place in Artprice’s global ranking. Art critics and collectors started to doubt, and some of Hirst’s works failed to sell despite estimates below the prices he commanded in the early 2000s (an accumulation of cigarette ends under glass remained unsold November last despite a low estimate of $500,000. In 2005 it would have fetched $570,000). Four of his works generated 7-figure results in 2014… but that’s not many compared to the incredible results of six years earlier. Although Damien Hirst’s market seems to have gone cold, he has been pursuing his mission of self-promotion and is currently preparing the opening of a personal gallery in the London Borough of Lambeth where he will install his own collection of artworks. This includes works he has created and works acquired in recent years by artists like Jeff Koons, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin… but also Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon.

Meanwhile, the market for other British Contemporary artists has remained remarkably buoyant with a flurry of new records in 2014. Of these, the most impressive was the $3.7 million paid for Tracey Emin’s installation My Bed (1998) against a high estimate of $2m at Christie’s in London (July 2014). With fees, My Bed cost its new owner $4.3m, a stunning new record (her previous record was below 1 million) for this artist who appears to have a special relationship with the British art scene. But the installation wasn’t just any installation; it was the one controversially exhibited by the Tate Gallery in 1999 when the artist was short-listed for the Turner prize.

Speaking of women artists, the Brits Cecily Brown (backed by the Gagosian) and Bridget Riley (backed by David Zwirner) are among the world’s most expensive female artists.