Damien Hirst Sees the Writing on the Gallery Wall

Now that he’s worth an estimated $364 million, Damien Hirst is ready to admit that the art market, which has taken quite a dive in recent months, has been “over-priced.”

In an interview with the UK’s Independent, Mr. Hirst said that he would be willing to lower his own–often exorbitant–prices, given the current economic situation:  “If I want to sell new work, I’ll price it lower. If people have got less money, you can either just shut your door and say, ‘Screw everybody’, or I can wait until everyone can afford my work or price it cheaper.”

Mr. Hirst, who became the world’s most expensive living artist when his Lullaby Spring piece sold at auction for £9.65 million in London in 2007, seems to have gotten the wake-up call last week, when his Beautiful Artemis Thor Neptune Odin Delusional Sapphic Inspirational Hypnosis Painting, which was expected to bring in at least $3 million, failed to sell at a Phillips de Pury & Co. auction in New York. Ever Panglossian (you might recall his observations about 9/11), Mr. Hirst suggested that the market shift could be a positive thing. Of the aforementioned non-sale, he said: “It was bought from me less than a year ago at half the price. In a way it’s good. We are looking at more realistic prices. People who bought things are not going to sell them that day. That is what an artist wants, for people to hang the works on their wall. As an artist, you don’t stop making art because people are not buying it.”

He added, “Buyers are more selective and more speculative. Four years ago, you could buy something for £50,000. If we went back to that, it’s not such a problem. What goes up must come down. It’s like when John Lennon went to get his long hair cut and someone asked him, ‘Why are you cutting it?’ He said, ‘What else can you do after you have grown it long?'”

Of course, last week’s debacle aside, the downturn has not hit Mr. Hirst as hard as some. His two-day “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” auction in London, which coincided with the September collapse of Lehman Brothers, still managed to net a record $126.6 million.