In a move that contradicts his reputation and career trajectory, ever-diversifying commercial enterprise Damien Hirst announced massive cutbacks to his organization, in the interest of getting back to making art. This restructuring has resulted in the layoffs of some 50 employees, at least some of which work in connection with Hirst’s various interests in the seaside town of Ilfracombe, Devon. This includes the popular Quay restaurant, where art tourists, drawn to the town by the 20-meter Hirst statue, “Verity,” could enjoy the catch of the day while looking at Hirst’s pickled fish, and other works.
Though residents of Ilfracombe will surely bemoan any curtailing of tourist trade as a result of the closure, it seems that a handful of Hirst-owned properties have been standing vacant on the main strip for some time now, presenting an impediment to the doubtlessly otherwise bustling nature of the former maritime trade town with a population of 11,000 residents (according to a 2011 parish census). Last year, Hirst abandoned plans for the “Southern Extension,” a 750-unit development of eco-friendly homes on property owned by the artist, which also included a primary school and a health center. Maybe he scored an advance screener of Wild, Wild Country and realized cult leadership is not all it’s cracked up to be, no matter how many Rolls Royces you get to have. As a sort of consolation prize, Ilfracombe does get to keep Hirst’s giant bronze statue on the pier on long-term loan; when reached for comment, the town said, “Eh.”
Of course, even after paring down his ambitions to no longer include annexing an entire town, Hirst’s humble return to his roots does include the purchase of a new studio on Beak Street in Soho, central London for a reported £40 million (~$52 million). Come on, guys — you cannot expect an artist to make paintings and pickle formerly living creatures and such without several multi-million dollar facilities. Hirst is showing real restraint here, possibly keeping his operations budget under £1 billion (~$1.3 billion); no doubt we can expect great revelations from this Siddhartha-like renunciation of his worldly holdings. If there’s one thing Hirst has demonstrated throughout a career based in conceptual market engagement, it’s that at the end of the day, he’s all about the art.
Art, when reached for comment, reportedly said: “Hey Damien, no hard feelings — it’s totally cool with me if you want to stick with being a restaurateur, or whatever!”