Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
Last week, deep in preparations for his forthcoming Venice show, Damien Hirst visited a local hostelry and left grateful patron Giovanni Fracassi with an off-the-cuff sketch. According to Fracassi, whose Da Ivo restaurant played host to George Clooney’s stag night, Hirst was enjoying a plate of duck pasta when he asked for a pen and paper to create the delightful doodle. ‘Someone in a gallery in New York told me the other day that my signature is worth $350 […] That means if I sign a cheque in a restaurant and it’s for £150 the cheque is actually worth more than the bill comes to’, Hirst told the London Evening Standard in 2008. Indeed, Fracassi believes the work to be worth up to £250,000.
His estimate, alas, may be just slightly optimistic: in 2008, a Leeds fish and chip shop owner auctioned a pickled trevally that Hirst had presented him at Bonhams. Though it was valued in excess of £100,000, the fishy work of art failed to reach its reserve price. But Hirst is far from the first artist to improvise work in a restaurant. The Colombe d’or restaurant in Saint-Paul de Vence, France, at one point welcomed a clientele including Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger and Georges Braque, and amassed a significant art collection by accepting pictures in lieu of payment.
The master of the, erm, art of bill dodging, however, was Salvador Dalí. Allegedly, the mustachioed surrealist would invite large groups of friends for fancy lunches at his own expense, and when the time came to settle up, would ask to pay with a cheque. Dali would then write the payment out for the full amount, before scribbling a sketch on the reverse. With astonishing bravado, Dalí wagered that the restaurateur would never attempt to cash a cheque bearing one of his sketches. Incredibly, he was usually right.