Hirst Skull for $800 as Site Promises Art Revolution

"For the Love of God" (2007) by Damien Hirst, was included in his exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London in 2012. Source: Prudence Cuming Associates/Tate via Bloomberg

Damien Hirst’s $100 million skull could be yours for just $800.

Not the real diamond-studded cranium -- a high-definition rotating image of it, certified by the artist, and available in a limited edition of 2,000 from the new digital-art venture S[edition], started in November by dealer Harry Blain.

Hirst and Tracey Emin are among artists producing the inaugural batch of works: high-quality digital stills or videos priced $8 to $1,600. Emin has contributed images of neon inscriptions. The works are for iPads, smartphones, PC and TV screens, and the artists get a cut of the sales.

So far, more than 100,000 Facebook users have “liked” the S[edition] page. The online gallery doesn’t give out totals for purchases or site subscribers. The most popular buy: a $20 still image of a Hirst dot painting, “Xylosidase,” of which 577 out of an edition of 10,000 have been sold.

“It’s modern, it’s hip, it’s new,” says Charley Uzzell Edwards, a London-based street-art and graffiti-art dealer. “But it doesn’t excite me quite as much as a nice old engraving, where you see the plate marks, and the actual physical character of the piece.”

For S[edition] to have more impact, says Uzzell Edwards, it should represent artists whose original medium is the digital screen. Stills of pre-existing artworks -- albeit low-resolution ones -- can be downloaded for free from the Web. Also, he says, edition sizes should be smaller to boost scarcity value.

Emerging Artists

S[edition] co-founder Robert Norton, former chief executive of Saatchi Online, says both issues are being addressed.

“Short-term, we want to increase our stable of well-known artists,” says Norton. “Longer-term, we want to make this a platform for more emerging artists to offer more work directly.”

The gallery also aims to set up an online secondary market for the works to be resold. Editions will then be smaller to boost their value as an investment, he says.

“The ability to resell the work is an important part, in some collectors’ minds, in the decision to buy,” he says.

Blain -- who co-founded the Haunch of Venison gallery in 2002, sold it to Christie’s International in 2007 and now co-runs BlainSouthern in London and Berlin and BlainDiDonna in New York -- says digital is the next step for the art market.

“There was a fan base out there that weren’t being engaged,” he says. “If you’re only ever talking to an existing marketplace, then you’re talking to a shrinking market.”

Watermark Tracer

Blain dismisses the threat of bootlegging, saying the product is “tracked and traced and watermarked.”

“If you have a first-edition book, it has a value, recognition of it being the original, the authentic, the first published volume,” he says. “There could be 10 billion editions of that book, but it doesn’t erode the value of the first edition.”

Among the moving-image works available on the site, Bill Viola has sequences from two of his videos, priced $200 each. Mat Collishaw’s $48 “Whispering Weeds” shows tall weeds swaying against a gray sky. Michael Craig-Martin’s $80 “Surfacing” has a square frame that moves over the line drawing underneath and colors it.

S[edition] artist Isaac Julien -- a Turner Prize nominee represented in the collections of Tate and The Museum of Modern Art -- sees the gallery as a vehicle for “democratization” of contemporary art. He’d like to see it market art originally made for the screen (as opposed to an image of a pre-existing work).

Julien, who teaches media art at the ZKM Center for Arts and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, also hopes prices will become “a bit more expensive, to give value to that field, which is at the moment locked out of the commercial art world.”

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