April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Damien Hirst said art prices may fall further as the global financial crisis continues to unsettle investors. He spoke as the largest show of his works opened in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
The U.K. artist, wearing Prada sunglasses and sitting in the all-white cafe of the Pinchuk Arts Center, said that he plans to put his $100 million platinum-and-diamond skull on permanent show in London and was thinking about making bronze meteorites.
Hirst's auction at Sotheby's London last September, which raised 111.5 million pounds ($199 million at the time), coincided with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Contemporary-art prices have dropped 30 percent to 50 percent since then, as wealthy clients refrain from making purchases in the economic slump, according to dealers.
"I'm not buying," Hirst said in reply to a question about his own art collecting. "I think prices will get more favorable. Everyone has to see what will happen with the market and when it will bottom out and settle down. My business manager said, ‘Cash is king at the moment.'"
From 2003 to 2007, worldwide auction sales of contemporary art grew more than eightfold, according to the French-based database Artprice.
Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian steel billionaire, tonight opens his "Requiem" show of more than 100 Hirst works from 1990 to 2008 that have been loaned by international collectors.
"Over half the works" are from Pinchuk's collection, said Hirst, wearing a white shirt, black jacket and jeans.
Drinking a glass of water in the 6th-floor cafe, the artist denied that the contemporary-art market surge of the past 10 years was an asset-price bubble.
"There's too much focus on the money side," he said. "It's not about what they are worth. I really believe art is the most powerful currency in the world. I think that's why it trades for large amounts of money."
Pinchuk has one of the largest contemporary-art collections in the former Soviet Union, and he was the first in the region to have his own art museum, which opened in October 2006.
The majority of the 104 works on display were made in the past two years, and about half of them are oil-on-canvas paintings. These include "White Roses and Butterflies," (2008); "Floating Skull," (2006); and "Men Shall Know Nothing" (2008).
"I probably have three collectors that I work with, and Victor is probably the biggest at the moment," Hirst said of Pinchuk. "I don't have many collectors who are friends, and Victor is a friend."
Sculptures on display include the artist's "A Thousand Years" (1991), a dead cow's head covered by maggots and flies in a large glass case; and "Away From the Flock" (1994), a dead lamb in formaldehyde in a glass and steel case.
Pinchuk previously said he bought at Hirst's "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever" two-day sale last year, where more than 200 works were sold, though he didn't reveal the titles of his acquisitions.
Hirst said about four items in the Pinchuk show were bought at the Sotheby's sale, including "False Idol," a dead calf in a glass-and-steel case filled with formaldehyde. It sold for 1.38 million pounds, below its bottom estimate of 1.8 million pounds.
"There's a lot of excitement in Ukraine," said Hirst. "People are excited about contemporary art, even those who don't like it. There are strong opinions backwards and forwards. When we did ‘Reflections' two years ago at the Pinchuk Center I thought people would hate it, but people were queuing around the block."
Hirst said he avoided doing a show at a major London venue.
"It's like looking back," he said. "Once you do that, you become like mainstream. I feel like a punk rocker. I've avoided becoming part of the system. I've always tried to avoid museum shows. I think it's something you do toward the end of your life, and I'm only 43," he said.
Hirst wore two rings, one with a skull and the other a skeleton. He said he wouldn't make any more butterfly or spin works.
"I feel they're not me anymore," he said. "I've changed and the works have stayed the same. There are new paintings in this exhibition, the Fact Paintings, the photographic paintings. Eventually I'll stop everything else except for this. I think I'm finished with painting the skulls, and I've finished with the blue paintings. I want to bring color in. I've been painting more complicated figures, landscapes and things."
As for ideas for the future, he said he was thinking about making bronze meteorites.
"They'd be out of this world!" he said. "I'm gonna go to the foundry and see if I can make something that looks like a meteorite. They'd probably be something from the size of a car to something you could hold in your hand."
Hirst said he owned about 3,000 artworks himself.
"I have five paintings by Francis Bacon, and works by Andy Warhol, Richard Prince, John Currin, and Jeff Koons. Sarah Lucas is an artist that I like. I also have some Old Master works, one by (Alessandro) Magnasco, 17th century. It shows a monk praying before the cross."
He said the diamond-and-platinum skull, "For the Love of God," had just been at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
"We were trying to organize a global tour, but it didn't work out because of the insurance," he said. "So now I am looking for a space in London where I'd put it on permanent display. Maybe it'll open in a year-and-a-half, but realistically probably in two years."
He referred to making other diamond-and-platinum body parts.
"Yeah, a diamond pelvis. Nah, that's just a joke. There's only one diamond skull," he said.
"Requiem" will be at the Pinchuk Art Center in Kiev through Sept. 20. Admission is free.
For information: click http://www.pinchukartcentre.org.
(John Varoli writes for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: John Varoli in Moscow at email@example.com.
Last Updated: April 24, 2009 07:45 EDT