Hirst a master in the art of making money

The writing may be on the wall for global finance, but Damien Hirst has managed to make £95.7m.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

That's for two years' work. Not that he actually does much of the work himself - merely supervising his flunkies carrying buckets of formaldehyde around.

The artist's two-day auction at Sotheby's closed last night, and demonstrated that there are still ways to make a quick bob or two even in these straightened times. He pocketed close to £100m for Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, a collection of pickled beasts, butterflies and stubbed-out ciggies - all works bashed out over a two-year period.

After the sight of staff walking out the door of Lehman Brothers clutching their belongings in cardboard boxes, it's nice to escape to the art world, where shock and surprise is far more predictable. Hirst's sale smashes the record for takings from a living artist. After the £70.55m taken on Monday night, a morning and afternoon sale on Tuesday brought in £41m. Twenty four of the 223 lots sold for more than £1m.

The sale also marked a departure for Sotheby's, working with directly with a living artist for the first time to sell straight to the market. And there was a shift in the nature of punters too - many were first-time buyers of contemporary art, and there was a lot of interest from the Middle East, China and Russia. The sale's biggest surprise, a steel cabinet of manufactured diamonds estimated up to £1.5m, sold for £5.2m -  to an anonymous Russian-speaker.

A statement by Hirst said that ‘the future looks great for everyone', which may be fudging the truth a bit: many of his lots were contested between only a handful of bidders, even with an influx of fresh collectors, rather than the frenzy that would have greeted it a few years ago. Still, budding artists shouldn't give up - simply try to capture Hirst's face when he opens his tax bill. The expression would be priceless.

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