Hirst works taken by art thieves

An upmarket London gallery has been targeted by art-savvy thieves who made off with more than £30,000 worth of work by Turner Prize winner Damien Hirst, its manager has said.

Two prints, worth a combined £33,000, were taken after a suspect stormed the Exhibitionist Gallery in Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, London, between 3am and 3.30am on Monday.

Metropolitan Police said a suspect entered the gallery by forcing the front doors and drove the items away in a dark-coloured hatchback-type vehicle towards Ladbroke Grove.

The stolen pieces feature multi-coloured dots and are signed by the artist.

Gallery manager Nathan Engelbrecht, 31, said he suspected the thieves would have known the value of the prints, which he had only acquired four days earlier and planned to unveil to clients on Tuesday.

"The speed at which it happened - we got them on Thursday and they're gone on Monday - just seems a bit coincidental," he said.

"It seems like it was targeted.

"It's a bit disappointing - as soon as you get a big name in the gallery, it just gets ripped off.

"You think in an area like this, with bars and people around all the time, you think you are protected. Not necessarily."

Mr Engelbrecht said those responsible did not go for anything else in the gallery.

"The store room had not been touched at all," he said.

"The spot prints are the most recognisable Hirst works, the others we had were left behind."

The gallery manager said the matter was being dealt with by his insurance company and Hirst had been advised.

"It took quite a while to negotiate because we are such a small gallery," he said.

A spokesman for Hirst said: " This is a police matter and I'm afraid we cannot comment."

The larger of the two stolen works is entitled Pyronin Y and is 40in by 46in. It was created in 2005 and is worth £15,000, police said.

The second work is entitled Oleoylsarcosine and is 26in x 35in. It was created in 2008 and is worth £18,000.

Detective Sergeant Jon Lightfoot, from Kensington and Chelsea Borough also said it appeared the two items were specifically targeted.

"The items would have been visible in the back of the car and we are appealing for any witnesses or anyone with information to please come forward," he said.

Hirst was awarded the Turner Prize in 1995.

His more recent works include Verity, a 66ft bronze-plated statue of a pregnant, naked woman wielding a sword, unveiled on Ilfracombe harbour in North Devon last October.

Hirst rose to fame as part of a group known as the Young British Artists and is probably best known for a series of works in which he preserved animals, including a shark and a sheep, in formaldehyde.

His solo show at Tate Modern last year was the most popular in the gallery's history, with around 463,000 visitors queuing to see exhibits including a diamond-encrusted human skull called For The Love Of God.

Other highlights of the show, seen by an average of almost 3,000 visitors a day, were A Thousand Years 1990 where flies emerge from maggots, eat from a rotting cow's head and die, and The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living where a shark is suspended in formaldehyde.

Hirst's commercial success is not always matched by critical acclaim and he has faced criticism from other artists, including fellow Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry who said his work was ''hackneyed'' and ''tatty''.

The transvestite potter said the ''phenomenally successful'' Hirst was playing ''a good game''.

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