Golden ticket economics, part 2: Damien Hirst

January 7, 2012
Complete Spot Challenge is a thing:

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Yes, the Damien Hirst Complete Spot Challenge is a thing:

Visit all eleven Gagosian Gallery locations during the exhibition The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011 and receive a signed spot print by Damien Hirst, dedicated personally to you.

Carol Vogel, who says that the price of spot prints is somewhere in the $3,500 to $50,000 range, managed to get Hirst to explain the thinking:

Asked how he came up with the idea, Mr. Hirst responded in an e-mail: “I figured it would be pretty difficult to visit all the galleries, and totally admirable if anyone managed it, so admirable in fact that I thought they would deserve a work of art, so we came up with the idea to do the challenge. I’d love it if people manage it. I remember the golden tickets in Willy Wonka, maybe it’s a bit like that.”

And Greg Allen comments, calling the whole thing “a Black Friday riot for billionaires”:

How awesome that he invokes the utterly deranged Willy Wonka for this thing, which goes beyond difficult; I think it’d be positively hellish. Which is really perfect.

But does it have to be hellish? Even if you don’t have access to a private jet? I decided, with the help of Nick Rizzo, to put together an itinerary for an imaginary plutocrat — let’s call him Pictor Vinchuk — who wanted to curry favor with Hirst and take this bonkers challenge. The rules: he had to fly commercial all the way (I guess his jet’s in the shop), but he would travel first class and stay in the best rooms at the grandest hotels. And, just to make it a bit more interesting, he had to wait until after Davos to start his trip.

Mr Vinchuk’s itinerary starts in Geneva — an easy hop from Davos. We’re trying to make this trip as un-hellish as possible, so we’ve booked him in to the Beau Rivage hotel, arriving on Sunday January 29, where two nights in a lake-facing historical suite will run $10,471. Then on Tuesday January 31, we’ve booked Mr Vinchuk and his companion onto the short flight to Rome. Still, a pair of first-class tickets is $2,682. Another two nights in Rome, at the Hassler Roma Classic Suite, will cost $6,717.

And then comes the low point of the whole journey: there aren’t any flights with first-class seats from Rome to Athens! Poor Mr Vinchuk has to make do with business-class seats, at a minuscule $439.10 apiece. And then slum it at the King George Palace hotel, where his junior suite is a mere $469. All very low-rent. Fortunately we’re only spending one night there, before we hold our nose and get on the final business-class leg of the trip, two tickets at $655 each to Paris.

From here on in, things get much more familiar. There’s the premier suite at the George V hotel, which is $11,450 for two nights. There’s the pleasant train journey to London on Eurostar, $948 for two tickets in first class. And then there’s the lovely Linley Suite at Claridge’s in London, where we spend three nights, which is more than enough time to visit both the Britannia Street and Davies Street Gagosians. That stay will run us $7,288.

Then on February 8 we hop over the pond to New York. Those tickets are a pretty impressive $9,276 each. And we need to spend some time in New York, too, to catch up on friends and make sure to visit the three different Gagosians — on 21st Street, 24th Street, and Madison Avenue. So we’ve booked Mr Vinchuk in to a grand suite at the Pierre, which runs $16,077 for four nights.
On February 12 we leave for Los Angeles: a first-class ticket for that leg is $3,108, and three nights in a deluxe bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel is another $8,341. And finally on February 15 we hop a plane to Hong Kong — that’s $15,682 for two first-class tickets — in order to catch the show there before it closes on the 18th. We’ll spend two nights in the presidential suite at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental: that’s $2,524, checking out on the 17th.

Add it all up, and the trip comes to $108,572 for a 19-day itinerary, or about $5,700 per day. And of course there are incidentals, too: meals, cars, helicopters to Geneva, tchotchkes at Harry Winston, that kind of thing. But the main thing, of course, is that you end up spending more money touring the eleven different Gagosians than the value of the print you get for doing so. Otherwise, Damien might think you were taking advantage. And I think we’ve safely managed to do that.

Update: OK, back to the drawing board here: the eagle-eyed Greg Allen notes that the LA show ends on Feb 10, which means that if we get there on Feb 12, we’ll be too late. He also says that “the Spot Challenge is really a challenge to fill the vast emptiness of someone’s life, to provide purpose [sic of the biggest kind] to someone’s leisure time. It’s literally the answer for someone who doesn’t know what to do–not just with their money, but at all.” I feel offended on behalf of Mr Vinchuk!

Meanwhile, Jennifer Bostic reckons she can do the whole trip, for two people, for $13,206, including some pretty grand hotels at some decidedly cheap prices. Of course, the real cost here, as Allen says, is time rather than money. But I would be tickled very pink if a pair of underemployed hipsters did the whole tour for less than the value of the prints, sold them, and made a profit. Listen all y’all, it’s an arbitrage!


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