No matter how you feel about Damien Hirst’s work, his place in history is secure, and his era-capping single-artist auction “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” deserves a healthy share of the credit (or blame) for that. After penetrating the zeitgeist with fellow Young British Artists in the 1990s and soaring to superstardom on the rosters of White Cube and Gagosian, Hirst circumvented both galleries in 2008 in favor of consigning 223 new works directly to Sotheby’s London. To an unprecedented degree, how the original buyers would fare if and when they chose to resell the works later was simultaneously a great unknown and a moot point to the artist himself, who would collect nearly all of the auction upside.

Now, just a few days away from its tenth anniversary, the sale has come to symbolize both an inflection point in the world economy and a source of dramatic irony for anyone looking back. The storied investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy only hours before the scheduled opening of Hirst’s sale on September 15, 2008—a date now portrayed as the opening shot in the long-building financial massacre known as the Great Recession. Read more