As the principal organiser of the 1988 Freeze exhibition, Damien Hirst attracted major collectors to what was essentially a display of student work, and in the process launched the YBA phenomenon. The entrepreneurial spirit behind the exhibition was still evident twenty years later, when the artist offered 223 new works through Sotheby’s auction house in London, in a two-session sale called Beautiful Inside My Head Forever. The highly publicised auction took place in September 2008, coinciding with the collapse of American financial services firm Lehman Brothers, a flashpoint in the recent global economic downturn. Nevertheless, eager bidders queued up to participate.
Bypassing the established method of offering his work through private galleries or dealers, Hirst said of the auction format, It’s a very democratic way to sell art and it feels like a natural evolution for contemporary art. The works available seemed to engage with the context of their sale, often revisiting themes from earlier in the artist’s career, with the addition of gold or silver elements to provide a luxury twist. Many of the titles referred to cautionary tales about wealth and idolatry, blithely mocking the anticipated censure of his critics. With Beautiful Inside My Head, Hirst not only infiltrated the art market; he turned one of its defining rituals into a work of total theatre. The record-breaking sale total reached £111.4 million.