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Contemporary Art

How Damien Hirst and Frank Dunphy Formed One of the Most Transformative Art World Collaborations of Our Times

First Look: Relive the 1990s Through the Collection of Damien Hirst’s Legendary Manager

In September 2018, Sotheby’s London will celebrate one of the most extraordinary art world collaborations of our times: that of Damien Hirst and his unstoppable business manager, mentor and ‘partner in crime’, Frank Dunphy.

Yellow Ball: The Frank and Lorna Dunphy Collection – a two-part sale and exhibition of over 200 artworks – tells the story behind the stratospheric rise of Damien Hirst, at the same time charting the iconoclastic 1990s art scene of which Frank and Lorna Dunphy were at the very heart.

Frank and Lorna were catapulted into the world of the Young British Artists (YBAs) following Frank’s appointment as Hirst’s business manager in 1995 and together assembled a collection reflecting the many friendships that followed.

At the core of the collection are a number of works by Damien Hirst – most made especially for the Dunphys, given as tokens of affection or in jest – which together chronicle the work and the play behind their adventures together.

Numerous pieces by the YBAs including Tracy Emin, Michael Craig-Martin and Rachael Whiteread also speak to the spirit of the times. These artists made up Frank and Lorna’s world, with long nights spent together at their favourite haunt The Groucho Club (where the Dunphys held their wedding reception). The central place this tight-knit group occupied in Frank and Lorna’s lives is brought to life by the many pieces they made specifically with the Dunphys, or their homes, in mind.

Other celebrated names in the collection include Andy Warhol, with one of his renowned dollar paintings conceived in response to the huge rise of consumerism in mid-20th century America. Dollar Sign, 1982 (Estimate £200,000–300,000) had originally been gifted to Warhol by his great friend David Whitney, the collector, critic and gallerist. There is a note on the back of the painting that reads ‘to Warhol from David.’ A tagli (cut) piece by Italian painter, sculptor and theorist Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1961, is the most valuable lot in the sale (est. £600,000–800,000). Among the American artists also represented in the sale is Richard Prince with the painting Untitled (Gene Pitney), 2011 (est. £50,000–70,000), named after the singer-songwriter Gene Pitney, who Frank managed prior to Hirst.

Speaking ahead of the sale, Frank and Lorna Dunphy said: “The art scene has been our life for the past 30 years. Living with the art has been like living with our friends. Much of it is steeped in happy memories, and much of it we bought ourselves simply because we loved it. But time waits for no man, and the time has come to say goodbye to some of the art, though not the memories nor to the friendships”.

Oliver Barker, Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe added: “Behind every great creative genius is a Svengali-type character who helps unleash and channel their brilliance. For Damien Hirst this was Frank Dunphy, whose midas touch is now legendary. You walk into a room inhabited by Frank and Lorna and you feel reunited with your oldest friends, but at the same time you know are in the presence of two of the most ingenious and inspirational minds you’ll ever encounter.”

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