It was only a week ago, since Damien Hirst – a provocative, British world-famous artist, with a fortune estimated at about $346 millions – hanging out at the SoHo House party with Larry Gagosian at Art Basel Miami Beach. But a few days later Hirst announced his exit, leaving the Gagosian Gallery, where he has been represented for more than 17 years.
On Thursday, Science Ltd., Mr. Hirst’s company, told the Financial Times that the gallery owner “Larry Gagosian and Damien have reached an amicable decision to part company”. Hirst therefore leaves Gagosian, but retains in a relationship with the White Cube Gallery in London – a gallery, that sold 223 of Hirst’s works (including dead animals) at Sotherby’s in 2008, gaining more than 21,000 visitors and $200.7 million. But whether Hirst will search for a new gallery in NYC to represent him, remains unknown.
But Hirst is not the only artist to stray from Gagosian. Last week David Zwirner, the Chelsea dealer, confirmed that in May he is planning to do a show of new paintings and sculptures by Jeff Koons, an artist who is also represented by Mr. Gagosian. Like Hirst, Koons has never shown any gallery loyalty, but have exhibited his work at the Sonnabend Gallery in Chelsea for many years. Last week Rebecca Sternthal, a director of Gagosian who works with Mr. Koons said that Gagosian “still represents Jeff Koons”.
Besides Koons and Hirst, there are rumors about yet another exit for a Gagosian artist: Yayoi Kusama, a famous Japanese artist.
Of the three artists, Mr. Hirst may have dealt the gallery the biggest blow. Mr. Koons, an artist of similarly huge stature, is still officially represented by Gagosian; Ms. Kusama, while more prominent than ever after a recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, does not have name recognition comparable to Mr. Hirst’s.
No one involved will discuss what precipitated Hirst’s sudden departure. Hirst is now in Thailand, not responding to telephone calls, e-mails or text messages. Mr. Gagosian is not commenting, either. Millicent Wilner, a director of the Gagosian Gallery in London, says: “As a gallery, we’ve done everything to support him (Hirst). But Damien has always done things differently.”
Some see Mr. Hirst’s announcement — and other similar defections from prominent galleries — as part of a larger art world trend. Mr. Gagosian is unquestionably the most powerful art dealer at todays art scene, representing an ever-growing stable of star artists, but today selected artists have become bigger stars than their galleries, and they know it and take advantage of it, Tobias Meyer, director of Sotheby’s contemporary art department worldwide and its principal auctioneer, describes.