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The shark is dead: how to build yourself a new market

British artist Damien Hirst is both controversial and successful. Jörg Reckhenrich, Jamie Anderson and Martin Kupp suggest that his ...

By Jamie Anderson , Martin Kupp and Jörg Reckhenrich 01 December 2009

British artist Damien Hirst is both controversial and successful. Jörg Reckhenrich, Jamie Anderson and Martin Kupp suggest that his innovative approach to life and work demonstrate strategies useful to organizations.


This article is provided by the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

ThesharkisdeadhowtobuildyourselfanewmarketIn mid-September 2008, the British artist Damien Hirst broke all rules of the art market.He bypassed conventional distribution channels - dealers and gallery owners - by directly partnering with Sotheby's auction house, which successfully sold more than 200 pieces of his work. For the first time, Sotheby's auctioned artworks that were less than two years old, another break from tradition. Hirst earned more than £110 million from the auction, in the midst of a global economic crisis and on the same day that Lehman Brothers investment house collapsed.

In the two decades leading to the auction, Hirst's work focused on the processes of life and death. His work was grouped into three broad areas - sculptures, paintings and glass tank pieces. His sculptures were most strongly represented by his cabinet series; he displayed collections of surgical tools or hundreds of pill bottles on shelves or even in a life-size recreation of a chemist's shop. The paintings were divided into spot and spin paintings - spot paintings being randomly organized, colourspotted saucer-sized discs, and the spin paintings produced on a spinning table, so that each work was created through centrifugal force. The tank pieces typically incorporated dead and sometimes dissected animals (cows, sheep or sharks) preserved in formaldehyde. More recently, Hirst diversified into modern interpretations of memento mori  artworks, art that was first created centuries ago.

Hirst is an artist, entrepreneur, and strategic innovator; here, we reflect upon the lessons Hirst's work and life offer for organizations and managers. We suggest that Hirst's rise to prominence should be understood in terms of his ability to break from established and preconceived norms of the art world. Hirst felt that, by the end of the 20th Century, the established art world had becomevictim to a phenomenon that psychologists term "inattentional blindness", meaning that when Hirst acted as curator of two warehouse shows with his friends, Carl Freedman and Billee Sellman. Once more Saatchi visited the shows and is reported to have stood open-mouthed when he looked at Hirst's first major animal installation, "A Thousand Years". This work was composed of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding off a rotting cow's head. Maggots hatched inside a transparent box, turned into flies, then fed on the cow's head before breeding and repeating the cycle.

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