Art Industry News: Damien Hirst Admits His Fans Are ‘a Cult’ as His First NFT Project Rakes in More Than $20 Million + Other Stories

Plus, a Cologne auction house will sell the inventory of the insolvent Galerie Michael Schultz, and TBA21-Academy is raising money for Tonga.

Damien Hirst with works from "The Currency." Courtesy of the artist.

Art Industry News is a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market. Here’s what you need to know this Monday, January 24.


Museums Are Trying to Figure Out How Much NFTs Are Worth – A CryptoPunk acquired by the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami has been stuck in escrow for six months because professional appraisers have been unable to settle the work’s dollar value (which is important both for insurance purposes and to calculate a tax break for the donor). Given the hyper-volatile NFT market, appraisers have been experimenting with different methodologies, taking into account things like the average price of the blockchain it is minted on, the value of similar works, and how it could be used—though the method is still imperfect. (New York)

Austria Takes Steps Toward Restituting Colonial Loot – Another European country is making moves—albeit very incremental ones—toward restitution. Austria has established a committee to devise official guidelines for national museums to handle repatriation requests for objects acquired in a colonial context. Led by the Jonathan Fine, the director of Vienna’s Weltmuseum, the group plans to publish its framework in 2023. (The Art Newspaper)

The Currency Has Made Damien Hirst a Lot of Money – Many complain that NFTs are all about the money. But the market has always been the medium of choice for Damien Hirst. His NFT experiment The Currency, which asks buyers to choose between a digital token and IRL art, grossed $18 million from the initial sale and collects an additional five percent of resale proceeds as the NFTs are traded online, according to the artist’s business partner Joe Hage. (Sales had already climbed to $25 million back in August.) “It’s like being in a cult,” Hirst said of his NFT acolytes, “and I’m the cult leader.” (New York Times)

Hermès Sues Artist Over Birkin NFTs – Questions over trademark infringement have officially arrived in the metaverse. Hermès is suing an artist over a line of NFTs he created called MetaBirkins inspired by the brand’s iconic handbags. In its complaint, Hermès said Mason Rothschild “simply rips off Hermès’ famous Birkin trademark by adding the generic prefix ‘meta’ to the famous trademark Birkin.” The artist contends that the virtual bags are protected by the First Amendment, “just as it gave Andy Warhol the right to make and sell art depicting Campbell’s soup cans.” (Guardian)


Van Ham to Sell Inventory of Insolvent Gallery – The Cologne auction house Van Ham is selling the inventory of the defunct Galerie Michael Schultz following the founder’s death last month. The gallery was declared insolvent in 2019, after Schultz was arrested on suspicion of defrauding clients out of millions of dollars. Some 550 works by artists including A.R. Penck and Seo Soo-Kyoung will be offered on behalf of the insolvency administrator in June. (The Art Newspaper)

TBA21-Academy Raises Funds for Tonga – TBA21-Academy is calling for donations for Tonga following a devastating underwater volcanic eruption in the Polynesian archipelago. The arts organization is also pulling together its own research, resources, and contacts to “come up with an efficient aid package to support the Tongan people,” according to its chairwoman Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza. (ARTnews)

London Queer Art & Literature Platform Launches Kickstarter – A new U.K.-based magazine for queer art and literature, BitterSweet Review, is crowdfunding for its first issue. The inaugural edition of the biannual publication, slated for release this summer, includes contributions from Tarek Lakhrissi and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Artist Gray Wielebinski is offering a limited edition as an incentive for donations. (Kickstarter)

The U.K. Gets a National LGBTQ+ Museum – Arts organization Queer Britain will open the U.K.’s first national LGBTQ+ museum in London. It will debut this spring at 2 Granary Square in Kings Cross, a space owned by the national arts charity Art Fund. (Press release)


Uffizi Acquires Painting by Rudolf Levy – German Jewish painter Rudolf F. Levy’s portrait of a young woman, Flame, has a new home: the Uffizi Galleries in Florence. The artist was exiled in the Italian city during World War II before he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Flame will be exhibited in the Palazzo Pitti to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 ahead of a larger Levy exhibition slated for 2023. (Press release)

Rudolf F. Levy, <i>Fiamma</i> (Flame) (1942). Courtesy Uffizi Galleries.

Rudolf F. Levy, Fiamma (Flame) (1942). Courtesy Uffizi Galleries.

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