Damien Hirst multiples: is it time to think twice?

Damien Hirst is an iconic artist who has left an indelible mark on contemporary British art. Provocative and prolific, with astonishing multimillion yearly auction records, Hirst is on many collectors’ minds, wish lists, and walls. 

His continued relevance in 2023 was marked by several appearances: at fairs, as the highlight of the Gagosian booth at Frieze; and through expository takeovers at Phillips’ Berkeley Square townhouse and Gagosian’s Britannia Street. You can learn more about Damien Hirst, the YBA (Young British Artists) trailblazer.

Hirst is an artist who carries a hefty price tag for original works and commands long waitlists. Because of this, the artist’s releases of editioned artworks have found their way into thousands of collections all over the world due to their relatively more accessible price points. Currently, his latest series, alluringly named the ‘Secrets’, based on the artworks shown at Frieze are available to buy in the primary market. 

From an investment standpoint, Hirst multiples are considered blue chip additions.

But how have they performed over time? Does it matter which work or series you buy? 

As it turns out, not all Hirst are created equal.

In a series of analyses conducted by our art specialist team, we dive into the world of Hirst multiples, starting with the February 2022 release of the “Empresses,” in time for their second anniversary on the market.

This series combines Hirst’s archetypal motif of kaleidoscopic arrangements of fiery red butterflies with a strong narrative around female empowerment and timeless themes of love, war, power, joy, and anger encapsulated in a series of five works aptly named after five influential female rulers. Released for a limited period of time priced at $3,500 (or about £2,800 at the time), the ultimate edition size of each work was determined by the number of purchase orders made, and the final edition ranges across the works from 2,814 to 3,315, with a total of 15,333 Empresses sold.

Similar to other Hirst multiples, and despite ‘No Resale’ agreements, the Empresses were quick to appear at auction, with first lots appearing within a mere 2 months of the release as we see in Table 1. In about two years on the market, the Empresses have been showing up regularly at auction, yet the sell-through rate is poor, with less than 40% of lots successfully hammering, suggesting a muted market interest. Indeed, within the last six months, all the Empresses hit a nadir, selling at a loss compared with the purchase price, and have scarcely shown up since (understandably).

It goes to show that art can go up and down in value, even for an artist as heralded as Damien Hirst. In Chart 2, we have plotted the performance of each Empress at auction over time, along with a trendline that indicates the price trend as determined at auction.1 Across the board, prices are trending downwards. 

Does it mean that having bought an Empress is a “bad” buy?2 Well, it depends on how you read the data. On one hand, you could infer that it’s a buyer’s market for the Empresses, so perhaps it is time to get your hands on an iconic Hirst that combines a strong narrative with the archetypal butterflies for a good value. Or you may read it as a doom and gloom for these female rulers.3  Before you make up your mind on this chart alone, let’s dive deeper.

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