Hirst Dates


Hirst Dates

Dating in the twenty-first century can be difficult. On the one hand, technology makes it easier than ever to find those with similar interests and hobbies; on the other hand, you can't always trust the information people put about themselves online.

Damien Hirst has recently faced dating issues of a kind that even Fred Sirieix cannot assist with, in the form of an ongoing investigation by The Guardian into his unconventional practice of applying dates to physical works by reference to when they were first conceived in his mind and not when they were first physically fabricated. The first instalment of that investigation, as I commented on in this piece, looked at his formaldehyde sculptures, in relation to which Hirst and his representatives did not appear to have made any definitive statement as to when the works were physically realised.

The second instalment has focused instead on Hirst's much publicised project The Currency, launched in July 2021 as a series of 10,000 paintings on paper each with a corresponding NFT, with buyers knowing that they were ultimately going to have choose between keeping the physical work or the NFT. The difference this time is that Hirst and his team did repeatedly say at the time of the launch of The Currency that the 10,000 physical works were “made” back in 2016. 

Whether or not the entire batch of 10,000 existed in 2016, that number subsequently acquired particular significance in the world of NFTs. In fact, The Guardian has quoted me as saying that 10,000 was “the magic number for an NFT art project” at the time The Currency was launched. The reason for that was that the two must successful NFT projects by far in terms of price, sales volume and profile were the CryptoPunk and Bored Ape Yacht Club collections, launched in June 2017 and April 2021 respectively, each made up of 10,000 unique characters, with no two exactly alike, each with attributes of differing rarity that could be ranked and traded accordingly. This article from July 2021 provided an introduction to how the rarity of a Bored Ape's “traits” would influence its value. 

That model of a collection of 10,000 NFTs with quantifiably different rarity characteristics became one that a great many other NFT projects attempted to replicate, but few as successfully as The Currency. The official website for The Currency had this to say on the works' differing rarity:

"Using a machine learning algorithm, all of the different identifying features of each work have been analyzed and ranked out of 10,000. From the amount of drips and splashes, to the texture of the paint, each artwork has a unique combination of ranked features."

At the time it seemed to me to be a real stroke of luck that Hirst had had these 10,000 works sitting ready to go in a plan chest for five years when the NFT boom came along.

If The Guardian's sources are correct, it does appear that questions could be asked as to whether the works making up The Currency were accurately described at the time they were launched and sold via a lucky dip for $2,000 each. Every case must be considered on its specific facts and circumstances, but generally when something is sold, if a consumer has been misled by the description of the thing they were provided with by the seller, there is a risk that the consumer may be entitled to claim compensation, a reduction in price, or to cancel the contract of sale completely. Given that secondary prices for both the remaining NFTs and paper works are still above the initial sale price of $2,000 at the time of writing, it seems unlikely that many buyers will be looking to exercise those consumer rights any time soon here if there has been any confusion over the original descriptions, but that could all change if the bottom dropped out of the market completely, as it has done for most other NFT projects launched at that time.

In an article published in January 2022 The New York Times declared, quoting an earlier comment by the critic Hal Foster, that “Damien Hirst's Medium is the Art Market”. It may well be that Hirst regards “the market” or even linear time itself as being amongst his mediums. His thoughts, as stated by his lawyers on his behalf, about which date is the most important one for a work that is primarily conceptual in nature are an interesting provocation and challenge to orthodoxy. In that spirit, it is completely legitimate for artists to use dates however they want, provided buyers are not misled either by unexplained unconventional usage and/or by promotional material containing inaccurate statements.

Quote mark icon

Contacted for comment, lawyers for Hirst and Science did not dispute that at least 1,000 of the paintings the artist said were dated 2016 were painted several years later. They did not respond to questions about why Hirst had explicitly said the physical artworks had been “made in 2016”.
featured image