Hirst: Still weak

By Felix Salmon
September 17, 2009
Scott Reyburn has a very misleading lede to his Hirst story:

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Scott Reyburn has a very misleading lede to his Hirst story:

Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) — A year after the record Damien Hirst sale, works by the artist are again being valued at levels seen at the peak of the art market boom.

His sole datapoint supporting this assertion? That a Hirst butterfly painting is coming up for auction with an estimate of £450,000 to £650,000. A substantially identical painting sold at the top of the market — the “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” sale — for £1.6 million. Which means, I think, that Hirst values are actually down about 66% from the peak.

The ArtTactic Average Price Index for Hirst butterfly paintings (yes, there really is such a thing) is down a mere 41% since September 2008, which means that the estimate on the painting coming up for sale is if anything lower — not higher — than you might expect. So where on earth does Reyburn get his idea that Hirsts are back to their peak valuations? Just this: that the £1.6 million Hirst “had a low valuation of £500,000″ when it was auctioned.

No. Auction estimates aren’t valuations, they’re just tools the auction house uses to try to maximize its revenues. The valuations are whatever the paintings sell for. And it’s pretty obvious that this year’s butterfly is going to sell for substantially less than £1.6 million. Which is the only comparison that matters.

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