Artist Damien Hirst is parting company with the world’s richest gallery, Gagosian, in a move that will stun art lovers.
New York-based Larry Gagosian has built up an empire of 12 art galleries, including his latest at the Le Bourget business airport in Paris, and represented Mr Hirst for the past 17 years.
Gagosian’s turnover was estimated at $925m this year by Forbes magazine. Mr Hirst is the world’s wealthiest artist, with a fortune of £215m, according to The Sunday Times rich list.
Mr Hirst’s company, Science Ltd, said that “Larry Gagosian and Damien have reached an amicable decision to part company”, adding that the artist would continue his relationship with a second gallery, White Cube, in London.
Gagosian issued a statement, saying: “It has been a great honour to work with Damien over the last 17 years culminating with the worldwide showing of the Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011 at all 11 Gagosian galleries this year . . . We wish him continued success for the future.”
Another of the gallery’s highly bankable superstars, Jeff Koons, will be holding a show at a rival gallery, David Zwirner, in New York in May, although Mr Koons has not said that he is leaving Gagosian.
As well as his long series of spot paintings – there are thought to be more than 1,000 in existence – the flamboyant Mr Hirst is best known for his shark in formaldehyde, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991), which hedge-fund mogul Steve Cohen bought for $12m in 2005.
While Gagosian does not reveal prices, larger spot paintings have sold at auction at prices ranging from £650,000 to £1.2m. “It was a perfect meeting of the market and the artist and a brilliant experiment in mass branding,” said Cristina Ruiz, editor at large for The Art Newspaper.
“Now the question is, who will represent Hirst in New York? He certainly needs a dealer there.”
Hirst is also known for producing “For the Love of God”, a real human skull studded with 8,601 diamonds.
It was put up for sale at £50m in 2007 and acquired by a consortium of investors that included Mr Hirst, his business manager Frank Dunphy and White Cube owner Jay Jopling.
Mr Dunphy, who has since retired, also masterminded the sale of 218 works by Mr Hirst through Sotheby’s in September 2008.
In bypassing both Gagosian and White Cube, Mr Hirst broke with the art market convention of selling only through representative galleries. Despite coinciding with the fall of Lehman Brothers, the auction raised a reported £111m.
While the auction market for Mr Hirst’s work has dipped significantly since then, he continues to enjoy appeal in new markets such as Hong Kong.