Wine aficionados say their vintage elixirs mature over years. British art superstar Damien Hirst seems to think his skateboards mature as well -- by his estimate, nearly six times in value since 2009. Add a permanent marker sketch and the price tag pushes $7,000.
Skateboarding is human, plank, four wheels, and ground. Whether tricks, style, speed, or all of the above, the skateboard lifestyle attracts people who trample boundaries. Creativity is valued, but perhaps the nearness of the asphalt keeps skaters real. On July 12, Hirst's publishing company, Other Criteria, threw a party in London to re-release skateboard decks from his 2009 collaboration with Supreme.The decks went online for purchase July 14.
Hirst, reportedly the wealthiest living British artist, was worth $340 million in 2010 according to the Sunday Times. He amassed his fortune by selling pieces like a 14-foot, 22-ton shark carcass preserved in formaldehyde, and a baby's skull encrusted with 8,000 mostly pink diamonds. But these decks are just maple and paint. Supreme commissioned two series from Hirst using his "Spin" and "Spot" artwork. Sources from Other Criteria say Supreme did a production run of 500 decks for public consumption, and endowed Hirst with 200 artist proofs. Two years later, savvy Hirst is offering his APs to the Supreme world where art meets fan-dom.
Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, and Christopher Wool are artists, like Hirst, who collaborated with Supreme to put their art on skateboard decks. Although many of the artists' decks have sold for thousands of dollars at auction, Hirst is the first artist to turn around and sell his APs en masse. Hirst said in the 2009 launch video that he "wants kids to skate these things." Now he's added a hefty premium for that privilege.
According to Nik Ledger, an urban art collector involved in bidding, Hirst's autographed decks were sold auction style with decks reaching around $7,000, a 6,900-percent increase from retail. Ledger said, "Personally, I think anyone buying these is in for a rude shock especially if they're looking for a profit." On eBay, a set of three "Spin" decks recently sold for $1,300, while a complete set of five "Spot" decks, one autographed, is being offered at "a bargain," $20,000.
In a galaxy far far away in California, works Skip Engblom, owner and founder of Santa Monica Airlines Skateboards. Engblom started making skateboards in the 1960s at 14 years old. Heath Ledger portrayed Engblom circa 1970 in the skateboarding movie, Lords of Dogtown. Fifty years later Engblom's still at his craft. "Every board I make is a custom. No two are alike," said Engblom. "Collectors of art are a totally different business, they would never talk with me anyhow and I don't really care. From marketing and business standpoint, everything I do is completely wrong. It doesn't make sense to take so much care to do something."
Hirst does not make the art. Hirst pays assistants to produce his artwork. "I think it's worth noting that at this point," said Catherine Nieves, former international marketing manager for Zoo York, "that Hirst is not concerned with giving back to the sport, but leveraging himself."
Joseph Mairena, a skater sponsored by Hurley, Element, FKD, and Nike said, "I like art. I love skating. I like anybody who is down to get out in the world and promote skating to show people how cool it is." Still, Mairena, who shreds through new boards in about a week said, "I don't know anyone who collects Supreme boards or any actual skaters who would pay that much, no matter what was printed on the bottom." Mairena says his friends would rather collect vintage decks. Guys like Mairena get boards for free from sponsors. When they bought decks, they grabbed generic store blanks for $25.
Meanwhile, Engblom said, "I want to make this absolutely clear: I have no problems with the guy. If he [Hirst] can con some dilettante for those skateboards, more power to him. I have no problem with commerce. Hopefully, he can buy me an inexpensive lunch sometime since I helped build the industry he's making money on."
Hirst was unavailable for comment.