Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K.’s wealthiest living artist, Damien Hirst, has parted ways with the Gagosian gallery, which represented him for the past 17 years.
Hirst, 47, whose best-known work is a tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde that billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen reportedly acquired for $12 million, had been a major money maker for Gagosian.
“Damien Hirst has decided to cease working with Gagosian Gallery worldwide,” Hirst’s company Science Ltd. said in an e-mailed release. “Damien has had a fantastic and productive working relationship with Gagosian Gallery, but after 17 years of representing him Larry Gagosian and Damien have reached an amicable decision to part company.”
All 11 Gagosian galleries presented his Spot paintings earlier this year. The dealer has since opened a 12th branch, at the Le Bourget private-jet airport north of Paris.
London’s White Cube gallery said it will carry on representing Hirst through its galleries in London, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo. Tim Marlow, the director of exhibitions at White Cube, said on the telephone today: “We are working with him now and will continue to represent him internationally in the future.”
Science Ltd. would not respond to questions about who would represent Hirst in the U.S.
Though Hirst’s prices have fallen recently -- only four of his works sold for more than $1 million at auction this year, and none above $2 million, according to Artnet -- his decision to leave Gagosian will be keenly felt.
“Hirst is in the uppermost echelon of the contemporary art canon, and high price or low, it’s a blow for the gallery,” said Jehan Chu, an adviser who runs Vermillion Art Collections in Hong Kong.
The news comes a week after David Zwirner, a major New York art dealer that recently opened a space in London, announced that Jeff Koons, another market star from Gagosian’s stable, will have an exhibition in May in Zwirner’s New York Chelsea gallery. A Gagosian spokeswoman confirmed that the gallery continues to represent Koons.
A formal break like Hirst’s raises the question of who will represent him in New York.
“Why would he commit to one dealer when he can have them all?” said Alberto Mugrabi, whose family has supported the Hirst market for years. “Any great gallery in New York would love to do a show with Damien.”
David Zwirner gallery spokeswoman Julia Joern said she wasn’t aware of any talks between the artist and her gallery.
Mugrabi said his family’s commitment to the Hirst market won’t be affected by the artist’s departure from Gagosian, saying, “I will support his market until I am dead.” He said the family owns “several hundred” pieces by Hirst.
This year, Larry Gagosian was accused in two lawsuits, including one brought by billionaire Ron Perelman over a $4 million sculpture by Koons, of using his position in the art world to negotiate secret deals, push clients around and manipulate prices for contemporary works.
Both Gagosian Gallery and Gagosian have declined to comment on the accusations. The gallery filed its own case against Perelman but later dropped it and will defend itself in Perelman’s suit.
This spring, Gagosian also lost John Good, a gallery director of 13 years. Good left for Christie’s, where he is now senior vice president and international director of postwar and contemporary art.
“I am not worried about Mr. Gagosian,” Mugrabi said. “He is still at the top, with or without Damien.”
Hirst’s works include a stainless steel and glass cabinet filled with thousands of pills, cast in bronze and painted, which sold for $19.2 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2007. That year, the average price for a Hirst lot at auction reached a high of $931,000, according to Artnet.
A human skull, covered with platinum and diamonds and entitled “For the Love of God,” was offered for sale in the same year for 50 million pounds by White Cube. It was bought by a consortium including the artist himself and White Cube owner Jay Jopling.
In 2008, Sotheby’s held an auction of more than 200 works sold directly by the artist, beating the pre-sale estimates by earning $200 million. For that year, Hirst’s works at auction tallied $230.9 million, according to Artprice.com.
Hirst’s auction revenue dropped by 94 percent to $14.6 million in 2010, before rising to $25 million in 2011, the latest year for which information is available on Artprice.
Almost a third of all Hirst lots offered at auction failed to sell in 2011.
An arch-shaped butterfly canvas, “The Old Fool’s Paradise,” (2006) that sold for $1 million at Sotheby’s in November 2009 fetched only $770,500 at the auction in May.
The average lot price for Hirst in 2012 was $215,000, according to Artnet.
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-- With assistance from Farah Nayeri and Chris Dolmetsch. Editors: Manuela Hoelterhoff, Zinta Lundborg.
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