A woolly black sheep with golden horns is submerged in a glass tank of formaldehyde. Nearby, dead flies turn a canvas into a grotesque monochrome.
It’s been a while since New York has seen much of Damien Hirst, the provocative multi-millionaire U.K. artist who became synonymous with the art market rush leading up to the financial crisis in 2008 -- and the bust that followed.
And yet there were Hirst’s signature creations -- a spin painting, a pair of pickled sharks -- greeting Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio and billionaire Henry Kravis at the Gagosian Gallery’s booth at the Frieze New York fair on Wednesday. The fair’s fifth edition on Randall’s Island includes more than 200 galleries from 31 countries and runs through May 8.
The Gagosian Gallery organized the survey to mark the artist’s return to the fold after he split from the dealer in 2012. It also coincides with the 20th anniversary of Hirst’s solo debut with Gagosian in New York. The works on view span from the early 1990s to present with prices from $100,000 to about $4 million. Several pieces sold on the opening day, according to Millicent Wilner, a Gagosian director in London. She declined to elaborate.
The reunion of the artist and the dealer appears aimed at reinvigorating Hirst’s career. In addition to the classic Hirst works at Frieze, Gagosian’s Madison Avenue branch is showing new paintings and sculptures, exploring his signature themes of life and death. A series of geometric paintings are inspired by emergency symbols on police cars and ambulances. A convenience-store like shelving unit is filled with cigarettes and alcohol.
“The installation at Frieze is to remind people that Damien Hirst and Larry Gagosian are back together,” said Alberto Mugrabi, a major collector of Hirst. The new work is to bring collectors back. "Here’s Damien saying to his collectors: ‘Look, I am going to work with you. The prices are not crazy,’" he said. Mugrabi bought three paintings at Madison Avenue for $200,000 to $300,000 and a sculpture priced at $1 million.
Hirst, 50, became an international sensation as the ring leader of the Young British Artists in the early 1990s, a group known for the use of shock tactics and unorthodox materials. In 1999, Hirst’s pickled animals arrived at the Brooklyn Museum as part of the traveling exhibition "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection." The show drew controversy and helped turn Hirst into one Britain’s wealthiest artists. Last year, he opened his own private museum in London.
It also helped Hirst’s brand when, in 2004, billionaire trader Steve Cohen paid $8 million for one of his best known works, a large tiger shark in a tank of formaldehyde titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.” (Cohen later lent it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on display for three years.)