A – Z Guide: D

Damien Hirst, Inc.

Already one of the best-known artists on the planet, Damien Hirst keeps getting bigger. It was a year ago when the British artist, 43, unveiled his $100 million human skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds— all ethically sourced, the artist assured. The press ate it up, gawking at the audacity, while predictable reproach emanated from the usual corners, especially when it emerged the “consortium” that reportedly bought the work included the artist himself.

Hirst has always had a showman’s savvy, but this was easily his cheekiest performance. Is it any coincidence that days after the skull went on view, Hirst’s Lullaby Spring, four stainless-steel cabinets containing 6,136 handmade and painted pills sold for $19.1 million, the second-highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist at auction?

“It is now generally acknowledged that Hirst is one of the most important artists of our time,” says Sotheby’s specialist Francis Outred. “Whether in the West or in developing economies like China or India, collectors want to own his work.”

The most coveted Hirst trophy, his pickled shark, went on loan last fall to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for three years from collector Steven Cohen, who bought it for some $8 million. About the same time, Hirst’s surreal installation of vitrines with sheep, sides of beef, birds, and, yes, a shark went on view at Lever House in New York, acquired by the building’s owner, Aby Rosen, for $10 million.

Perhaps seeking to exploit his broader marketing appeal, Hirst is opening Other Criteria, a London shop that will sell his editioned 18-karat-gold charm bracelets ($50,000), butterfly-pattern wallpaper ($2,000 a roll), and plastic skulls ($50,000). Last fall he designed a clothing line for Levi’s Warhol Factory X label, including $3,700 jeans encrusted with Swarovski-crystal skull patterns. And for next year he’s planning a gallery and restaurant in South London. All of which should add nicely to his $250 million net worth, some of which he’s using to restore the 300-room Gothic Toddington Manor to hold his extensive art collection.

But don’t say Hirst isn’t doing his part. In February he teamed up with Bono to organize the (RED) auction at Sotheby’s, raising $42.5 million to fight AIDS in Africa, nearly half of which came from the seven works he donated. Back home he’s working on his green credentials, fitting $3 million solar panels onto his Gloucestershire studio—Britain’s second-largest photovoltaic system. As if Hirst needs more wattage.

Divine Commedia

The world première of La Commedia, the latest music-theater work by Louis Andriessen, will be performed in June by Amsterdam’s De Nederlandse Opera, with filmmaker Hal Hartley directing. Based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, the nonlinear story is told through film, spoken word, song, and dance, with sets inspired by Hieronymus Bosch.

Darger-ism

The Folk Art Museum in New York is branding the self-taught Henry Darger (one of his visionary works is above) as his own art movement. Its show “Darger-ism” explores his influence on 11 artists working today, including Amy Cutler and Grayson Perry (until September 21).

Dancing To His Own Tune

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has been heralded as ballet’s great hope and the man destined to perpetuate Balanchine’s legacy at the New York City Ballet, where he became choreographer in 2001 at the age of 28. So when the British-born Wheeldon announced, 18 months ago, that he was leaving to start his own company, Morphoses, the dance world erupted in a frenzy of speculation. Morphoses’s weeklong debut at City Center in New York this past October featured an all-star cast of dancers—Alina Cojocaru (London’s Royal Ballet), Anastasia Yatsenko (Bolshoi), Wendy Whelan (New York City Ballet)—and presented works by Wheeldon as well as Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Michael Clark. What Wheeldon does next and whether he can rescue ballet from its often moribund image are the most interesting dance questions of the coming year.

Q: How do you plan to bring ballet into the 21st century and to draw younger audiences?

Wheeldon: When people get a behind-the-scenes glimpse, as they did in our first season, through films that show us working or through open rehearsals, it makes our world seem more accessible. And we have big plans for our Web site. We want to show rehearsal footage, even live choreographic sessions, to find other ways to let people in.

Q: How did you feel about negative reviews of Morphoses’s first season? Were the critics fair?

Wheeldon: I think our programming choices came in for the most criticism—people felt the works were too similar. But I’m not sure there was an understanding that I didn’t have complete freedom to do whatever repertory I wanted. Because of our limited financial resources, I did more of my own work than I would have ideally chosen to do. And expectations were perhaps a bit high: We had a short rehearsal period since the dancers all came from other companies. But there is no doubt that I learned a lot.

Q: What gives you the greatest joy in what you do?

Wheeldon: Watching dancers develop in the roles I give them and in pieces I bring into the company. As well as creating and watching others create. In July, before our fall seasons in London and New York, we’ll do a choreographic workshop at the Vail Festival. Being able to bring in other choreographers and have a real exchange of ideas is very satisfying.

Q: Do you ever think, Why on earth did I do this?

Wheeldon: Quite often! These are uncertain times economically, and while we’ve had great support, we need major financial help to really start putting down roots. Hopefully that’s just around the corner. We are working really hard to be true to my dreams and goals for the company.