The Incredible Story Of How Damien Hirst Turned Making Money Into An Art Form

Damien Hirst Shark

Photo: Getty / Oli Scarff

Damien Hirst, the 46-year-old enfant terrible of the British art scene, last week opened a mid-career retrospective at the Tate Modern in London, England, running until 9 September 2012.The show has received mostly unfavorable reviews from London’s art elite. One critic, Julian Spalding, wrote an incredibly vitriolic review in the Independent:

Damien Hirst isn’t an artist. His works may draw huge crowds when they go on show in a five-month-long blockbuster retrospective at Tate Modern next week. But they have no artistic content and are worthless as works of art. They are, therefore, worthless financially.”

So what’s the big deal?

However last week, with Hirst still very much alive, his retrospective opened at the UK's biggest modern art gallery.

It's a long way from his roots, the only child of son of a motor mechanic who left home when he was 12 (Hirst later found out he was not his real father).

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He was even arrested twice for shoplifting, but eventually made his way to art school.

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While studying at Goldsmith's college in London, he put on his own art show, Freeze, in 1988.

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Advertising millionaire and noted art collector Charles Saatchi visited and later bought some of the work.

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Perhaps his most iconic work features a shark suspended in formaldehyde.

Despite the fact the shark has rotted and needed to be replaced, the work was later thought to be worth $12 million.

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But nowadays a sober Hirst is best known for his skills as a businessman.

He says he has over 160 employees.

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His critics claimed he was making art for profit when he encrusted a skull with diamonds and sold it for a claimed price of £50 Million — even if some claim he bought the skull himself to avoid embarrassment.

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In 2010 he famously sold work directly through Sotheby's, cutting out the dealers. Incredibly, some of the artwork was so new it was still wet.

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It brought in $270 million worth of sales, though damaged his relationship with the art world.

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Regardless, it seems to pay off. He is thought to be worth £215 million ($340 million)

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And from the looks of things, he's hoping to add to that. The Tate gift shop is selling plastic skulls for £36,800 ($58,272) a pop.

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