Is Damien Hirst Reinventing the Art Business?

That is what Melik Kaylan asks in this Wall Street Journal piece. He thinks international art star Damien Hirst is cutting out the middle men of the art world, gallerists, since he’s decided to auction his pieces directly from Sotheby’s (the preview for the Sept. 15 and 16 auction is happening in the Hamptons this weekend, btw). Is this just more evidence of Mr. Hirst’s “titanic Duchampian originality, as if even the way he plans to sell his work is a radical new art form”? Or is he really upending the art market as we know it?

There is some speculation that this might be a pivotal moment, like the end of the studio system in movies or the continuing decline of the record labels in the music business. Could the gallerist’s traditional role as mediator between the contemporary artist and his market be passé?

Eh, not so fast. Mr. Kaylan explains that art dealers still have an important role as a kind of PR agent for the artist. Only huge, mega-star artists like Mr. Hirst could pull off stunts like the Sotheby’s sell. Most artists still need a gallerist to hype their name and their work to the media, to other gallerists, to the internet and to individual buyers.

Mr. Kaylan concludes that the market won’t change too much. But beware of the inflation of artists’ egos…

If they create a big enough star, the star will have no need of them. At the very least, dealers and gallerists in contemporary art will face a solid ceiling beyond which they cannot maximize profit on the investment they made nurturing artists. They simply cannot compete with the global footprint of international auction houses, which offer artists instant access to world-wide markets.

Is Damien Hirst Reinventing the Art Business?