The most incredible Hirst-branding story involved A. A. Gill, feature writer and restaurant critic for the London Sunday Times. Gill owned an old painting of Joseph Stalin by an unknown hand, which he said “used to hang over my desk as an aid to hard work” and for which he had paid £200. In February 2007, Gill offered it to Christie’s for sale in a midweek auction. The auction house rejected it, saying it did not deal in Hitler or Stalin.
“How about if it were Stalin by Hirst or Warhol?”
“Well then, of course we would love to have it.”
Gill called Damien Hirst and asked if he would paint a red nose on Stalin. Hirst did so, adding his signature below the nose. With the signature, Christie’s accepted it and offered an estimate of £8,000-12,000. Seventeen bidders later, the hammer fell at £140,000. It was, after all, a signed Hirst. (68-69)
The most shameless artist of all when it came to self-promotion was probably Pablo Picasso. His first show at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in Paris featured portraits of the exhibition’s three financial backers, while he gave paintings to the two critics who attended the show and wrote laudatory reviews. After he achieved fame, Picasso wrote checks to art editors and critics for even the smallest amount, knowing that they would never be cashed, that the recipient would keep the check for its signature. (213)