Damien Hirst & HENI: The Most Lucrative Business in the Print Market?
Hirst & HENI Await a $200 Million Payday

A photograph of Damien Hirst in a tracksuit standing in front of two of his The Secrets prints, which depict a colourful compositions of flowers in a field.Image © HENI / Damien Hirst with The Secrets © Damien Hirst & HENI 2024
Jasper Tordoff

Jasper Tordoff, Specialist[email protected]

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Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

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In just eight years, Damien Hirst and HENI have built the most lucrative business in the print market. Across 14 print ‘drops’ with HENI Editions, two works on paper releases with Heni Primary, and 3 NFT releases with HENI NFT, the King of Controversial Art and the edition market moguls have turned over an extraordinary $206,445,375.00*. In his most recent collaboration, Hirst and HENI held yet another print drop for The Secrets in direct response to The Secret Gardens paintings he produced with Gagosian in 2023. As Hirst and HENI release the edition numbers for this latest print drop, we look at the duo’s masterful approach to marketing.

Since his rise to fame alongside fellow Goldsmith’s compatriots, Damien Hirst has always been acutely aware of the importance of marketing in the world of art. Though Hirst is no longer a ‘Young’ British Artist, the movement’s ethos of controversy above all has remained the cornerstone of his entire career. From the early days of shocking the British art scene with his provocative works, to being championed and critically appraised by Charles Saatchi - who Hirst ironically remarked was “only capable of recognising art with his wallet” - Hirst’s success is a result of marketing genius. From his album cover for Drake’s Certified Lover Boy to securing patronage within the globally renowned private members club, Soho House, Hirst and his team have a profound awareness of their audience. They continuously strive to appeal to a new demographic of collectors through strategic placement, a keen understanding of pop culture, and a disruptive approach to the traditional art market.

This strategic approach to the art world and market has culminated in his monumental collaborations with HENI. Together, they have capitalised on an entirely novel approach to the print market via ‘drops’ while venturing successfully into the realm of NFTs. This partnership, unique in its scale and success, highlights Hirst’s unparalleled ability to marry artistic innovation with commercial acumen. As Hirst and HENI release the edition numbers for their latest print drop, The Secrets, the duo to have now turned over more than $200 million across all their Editions, Primary, and NFT releases alone.*

*This estimation is based on the gross turnover of all Hirst x HENI releases via HENI Editions, HENI Primary, and HENI NFT. This figure does not take into account additional fees, tax, or commission. This figure also does not include any further profits from HENI Merch, HENI Publishing, or HENI Exhibitions.

Graph showing Revenue vs Edition Size from all of Damien Hirst and HENI's releasesRevenue vs Edition Size from Hirst & HENI - All © MyArtBroker 2024

From H1 to H14: Hirst’s Collaborations with HENI

The HENI Group was founded in 2009 as a small independent publisher by Joe Hage, who is also a managing partner of the Joseph Hage Aaronson law firm. Alongside being founder to the HENI Group and a barrister, Hage is a chartered accountant and founding director of Palm NFT Studios. Hage also acts as a Director of the Board at Soho House & Co Inc. - perhaps explaining how the private members club have managed to add multiple Hirst works to their acquisitions.

HENI describe themselves as “a technology company pioneering art markets and information,” with a simple mission to “make art accessible to everyone by giving people the chance to learn about and collect art.” Operating purely online, HENI have defied the strictures of the traditional bricks and mortar art world - redefining gallery representation for prominent artists, and the ways in which art is created and traded. Like so many successful businesses in the art market today, the HENI Group was created by a relative ‘outsider’ to the art world - whose attention seems to have been focused solely on the big business that is the art market.

Like so many successful businesses in the art market today, the HENI Group was created by a relative ‘outsider’ to the art world - whose attention seems to have been focused solely on the big business that is the art market.

Today, Hage manages Hirst and other prominent living artists - Peter Doig and Gerhard Richter among their ranks. Hirst and HENI first collaborated back in 2016 with their first physical print release: H1 Enter The Infinite. For this initial release, a total of 180 prints were made - nine different prints each with an edition of 20 - which turned over a respectable $1,080,000. Fast forward six years later to 2022, Hirst and HENI dropped their tenth collaboration - H10 The Empresses - which turned over an extraordinary $53,665,500. How did they do it? The answer to that question is nuanced, and is likely down to a blend of the COVID-19 pandemic fuelling people’s interest in collecting art (something we see mirrored in the Banksy market); prints becoming more accessible in terms of price-point; and - most importantly - their introduction of ‘drops’ to sell Hirst’s editions via HENI’s online marketplace.

Graph showing Revenue vs Edition Size from all of Damien Hirst and HENI's print releasesRevenue vs Edition Size from Hirst & HENI - Prints Only © MyArtBroker 2024

Hirst x HENI: The Print ‘Drop’ Phenomenon

When looking at the total editions sold and revenue returned by the Hirst and HENI collaborations, there is a dramatic uplift with the H7 Rainbow Editions series created in 2020. This was the first of their print ‘drops’, where edition sizes were determined by demand during a timed drop period. These works were released amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and were sold to raise funds for the struggling NHS. These prints were also markedly cheaper than any of the previous Hirst and HENI print releases, costing £1,000 for the larger size and just £300 for the smaller size. The accessible price point, coupled with this new ‘drop’ approach to establishing edition sizes - and the fact that the prints were being sold for a good cause - led to a remarkable spike in the number of editions sold. Though the total revenue raised was a lot lower by comparison, the H7 series proved that this ‘drop’ approach worked to garner collector’s interest more than traditional print releases.

Unlike regular print editions, which are typically produced in a limited quantity before they are released to the public for sale - the edition size of Hirst's individual prints from these ‘drops’ with HENI are dictated solely by how many people are willing to purchase them, with the prints produced after the ‘drop’ has ended. This hyper-commercialised approach to art production is quintessentially Hirst: who has been met with equal measures of championship and controversy for his volume-driven practice.

Graph showing the number of Hirst & HENI editions sold per series (prints only)Number of Editions Sold Per Series - Prints Only © MyArtBroker 2024

The Art Historical Significance of Hirst x HENI's Print ‘Drops’

Since H7 Rainbow Editions, Hirst's prints have been released as these ‘drops’ - a term we are more accustomed to seeing in relation to designer streetwear fashion labels like Supreme and Stüssy. The etymology of the word, used in lieu of ‘release’, has been attributed to Hip Hop music and the ‘dropping’ of highly anticipated records. Essentially, the term is used to signal the limited release of merchandise, whether it be a line of designer fashion pieces or music records. It is not merely a term of the times, but a marketing technique closely intertwined with 21st century consumer habits and ‘hype culture’.

Why is this significant for Hirst and HENI's collaborations? In short, these print ‘drops’ are the first of their kind in the art world for a major blue chip artist like Hirst. Hirst is the only artist with whom HENI has experimented with these ‘drops’. Signalling a new era in the art market and breaking with tradition, likely fuelled by the hype culture surrounding NFTs and the internet era at large, Hirst's ‘drops’ with HENI should not be overlooked as a mere marketing gimmick. This is an entirely novel approach to the historic practice of printmaking, and is perhaps an indication of where the art world - and its market - is heading in the near future.

With artworks being produced solely on the basis of demand and financial return, Hirst and HENI have been met with a degree of contempt for this ‘drop culture’ approach to art. One commenter on a HENI Instagram post promoting their ‘drop’ for H13 Where The Land Meets The Sea complained: “I'm offended that Damien doesn't even seem to be bothering to put any effort into ripping us off anymore. Sad day for the artworld.” Another comment scathingly reads: “Please start producing some actual ‘art’ editions with Damien. This is lazy CTRL-P shiny tat.” For the latest drop, H14 The Secrets, one person commented: “Overpriced and mass produced… this is not what art is about”. This particular comment was replied to with less scepticism: “There are a lot of people who can’t afford an original who’d like to own one. What’s wrong with that?” Like Hirst's oeuvre at large, his ‘drops’ with HENI have sparked debate. Indeed, if Hirst and his YBA Sensation allies have taught us anything, it's that any press truly is good press.

Bar graph showing Hirst & HENI's average sale price vs average hammer price over seven yearsHirst & HENI Prints Avg. Sale Price vs Avg. Hammer Price (7 Years) © MyArtBroker 2024

The Hirst x HENI Prints on the Secondary Market

Most of the negative reception towards the Hirst and HENI drops has been put down to fears that Hirst’s market is becoming over-saturated by these larger print runs. One comment on a recent HENI Instagram post promoting The Secrets read: “These are not for investment but you get a big beautiful piece of art, incredible. In person these are really stunning.” Looking at public auction house data alongside MyArtBroker’s blended private data, the reality is far more nuanced than this. From H1 Enter The Infinite to H10 The Empresses, average hammer prices at auction show definitive increases in value for some of the HENI releases - though certainly not all. H9 The Virtues, in particular, has witnessed particularly high demand. A complete set of these works was Hirst’s top-selling print work at auction in 2023, after selling at Phillips in June 2023 for £101,600. Also performing well on the secondary market are prints from H10 The Empresses, H6 The Aspects, H6 The Elements, and H4 Veils.

We are yet to see how the more recent H11-13 prints fare on the secondary market as these works are currently being traded in much lower volumes. However, Hirst and HENI have already dropped two new print series in 2024 alone - H14 The Secrets and print iterations of Great Expectations (which were available to purchase by owners of the NFT version only). HENI have also worked with Hirst to organise his latest exhibition, The Light That Shines, which opens on 2 March in Paris. Whether or not this sculpture show will be the catalyst for yet another print drop is yet to be confirmed, but the duo certainly show no sign of slowing production and little concern for over-saturating Hirst’s market.

Two bar graphs showing Hirst Trending Print Series by Sales Value and Lots Sold in 2023Hirst Trending Print Series: Sales Value x Lots Sold In 2023 © MyArtBroker 2024

Are the Hirst X HENI Prints Worth Investing In?

Despite these concerns of over-saturation, Hirst's print market has show consistent year-on-year (YoY) growth over the past seven years. Though Hirst's print market witnessed a decline in 2023, performance in 2023 remained strong, ranking as his second-best over the seven-year period, surpassing 2021 in both sales value and lots sold.

Hirst's HENI prints offer some of the more accessible entry points into his market, with a typically lower price point than the artist's older prints. Many of the HENI prints are obtainable for £5,000 or less, giving collectors the opportunity to begin collecting from Hirst's extensive body over work for less than his rarer and earlier series before the ‘drop’ phenomenon.

According to Market Editor, Sheena Carrington: “Hirst's HENI releases ensure a consistent supply of prints through reputable channels, further bolstering market confidence. Consequently, Hirst prints cater to a broad spectrum of investors, from seasoned collectors to newcomers, offering diverse themes and price points. Hirst prints stand as a relatively liquid asset within the contemporary art market, supported by both demand-driven production and the artist's established market presence.”

For further detailed analysis of the current nature of the Hirst market, read more in our Hirst Investment Guide.

Photograph of Damien Hirst holding one of his circular Beautiful Paintings made in collaboration with HENIImage © Heni / Damien Hirst Holding One Of The Beautiful Paintings © Damien Hirst 2023

Whether you're a fan of this approach to art production or not, Hirst's collaborations with HENI must be lauded not only for their commercially savvy edge but - crucially - the way they make us think about the big business that is the art market. Hirst has always had his ear closely pressed to the culture of the times, striking it hot with the media and captivating the art world, and these ‘drops’ with HENI are not incidental, nor unconscious. This latest release is part of a larger puzzle being pieced together, shaping the language of art history, the nature of the art market, and - ultimately - the cultural zeitgeist of our time.

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