Damien Hirst and Authorship

Hirst, 2014 GQ cover

A few weeks ago I attended a pretty great lecture about copyright issues artists often face. I kind of forgot about it until I did that post on the YBAs and found out a lot more about Hirst and the suspicions of idea stealing casting shade on his work, reminding me of the copyright lecture. So I decided to investigate a little further into these claims, since it was too much of a coincidence to ignore.

But first a quick summary of Hirst’s rise to stardom:

Damien Steven Hirst (born in Bristol on June 7, 1965) has managed to stand out among his YBA peers by becoming a savvy entrepreneur marketing his art. He was first inspired by Francis Davison after seeing his exhibit at the Hayward Gallery in staged by Julian Spalding in 1983. Davison made abstract collages from torn and cut coloured paper to which Hirst responded with “blew me away.” Well Hirst was so blown away that for the next two years he claims he modeled his own work after Davidson’s collages.  Hirst was then admitted to Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London in 1986, after two attempts, where he studied through 1989. In school Hirst was again inspired, this time by Micheal Craig-Martin when he saw his senior tutor’s piece An Oak Tree.

But Hirst’s art really got attention when death became his focus, providing finally the platform for his great success, and his chance to outshine the rest of the YBAs. While a student, Hirst was placed at a mortuary, and it was most likely this experience that compelled him to explore the theme of death and internal structures of the body in his most well-known works. His art features an menagerie’s worth of animals, dead and often dissected, preserved in formaldehyde. Probably the most familiar of these is a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a large vitrine (clear display case) titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Hirst also made “spin paintings,” created on a round, rotating surface, and “spot paintings”, which are rows of randomly coloured circles created by his assistants.He is internationally recognized as the richest UK artist.  Some compare him to Jasper Johns and Jeff Koons in his ability to command huge prices for his works.

Hirst continued to do well by selling prints and accessories bearing his signature styles and images through his company, Other Criteria which he co-founded in 2005. But his biggest cash-in took place in Septemeber 2008 at Sotheby’s, London, where Hirst took an unconventional tactic in art exhibiting and auctioned his work directly to the public; by-passing his usual galleries. This two day auction, called “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” exceeded all predictions and brought in roughly $198 million for 218 items. He broke his own sale record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf (an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde) as well as the record for a one-artist auction— by ten fold!  Hirst was undoubtedly pleased, though according to the Independent the artist was not on board with the idea at first and had to be convinced by his business advisor.

 

Hirst, from his Butterfly Paintings

But his rapid accumulation of wealth and prominence did not shield him from critical attacks questioning his authenticity. Since 1999, Hirst has been called a plagiarizer in articles by journalists and artists. In 2010, Charles Johnson described in The Jackdaw 15 cases accusing Hirst of plagiarizing other work. Examples included Joseph Cornell’s claim that Hirst’s Pharmacy was a copy of a pice he made in 1943; Lori Precious who had made stained-glass window effects from butterfly wings from 1994 several years before Hirst; and John LeKay who did a crucified sheep in 1987. A spokesperson for Hirst said Charles Johnson’s article was “poor journalism” and that Hirst would be making a “comprehensive” rebuttal of the claim.

But many other critics point out that Hirst’s spin paintings and installations, particularly one of a ball on a jet of air, are barely altered versions of pieces made in the 1960s, hardly original. And the accusations just kept on coming.

Chef Marco Pierre White said Hirst stole from his Rising Sun, on display in the restaurant Quo Vadis, to make Butterflies on Mars. In 2000, Hirst was sued for breach of copyright over his sculpture, Hymn, which was a 20-foot (6.1 m), six ton, enlargement of his son Connor’s 14″ Young Scientist Anatomy Set, designed by Norman Emms, 10,000 of which are sold a year by Hull-based toy manufacturer Humbrol for £14.99 each. Hirst was forced through legal proceedings to prove his authorship which led to an out-of-court settlement requiring him to pay an undisclosed sum to two charities, Children Nationwide and the Toy Trust as well as a “good will payment” to Emms. This “charitable donation” was much less than what Emms hoped for, but Hirst also agreed to restrictions on further reproductions of his sculpture.

In 2006, Robert Dixon, a graphic artist, former research associate at the Royal College of Art and author of ‘Mathographics’, alleged that Hirst’s print Valium had “unmistakable similarities” to a design from his book. Hirst’s manager contested but his refutal did more damage than good. This explanation was that the origin of Hirst’s piece came from the book The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry (1991) not realizing this was one place where Dixon’s design had been published.

In 2007, artist John LeKay  again accused Hirst of stealing his ideas, but this time asked only that Hirst acknowledge his him as an effluence. LeKay said he was once a friend of Damien Hirst between 1992 and 1994 and had given him a “marked-up duplicate copy” of a Carolina Biological Supply Company catalogue, adding “You have

Hirst, “For the Love of God”

no idea how much he got from this catalogue. The Cow Divided is on page 647 – it is a model of a cow divided down the centre, like his piece.” This refers to Hirst’s work Mother and Child, Divided—a cow and calf cut in half and placed in formaldehyde. LeKay’s goes on to say Hirst copied the idea of For the Love of God from a crystal skull he made in 1993, and pleaded for credit for his work saying, “I would like for Damien to acknowledge that ‘John really did inspire the skull and influenced my work a lot.'” Hirst’s copyright lawyer Paul Tackaberry reviewed images of LeKay’s and Hirst’s work and saw no basis for copyright infringement claims in a legal sense, but it does make one wonder about the legitimacy of LeKay’s accusation and the rest of  the allegations charging Hirst of plagiarizing. It seems that Hirst built a career in art making by not only sage marketing and promoting strategies (the man was undeniably an innovative entrepreneur) but also by deftly navigating the thin space between appropriation and stealing.

Finally, Jim Starr’s upheaval over Hirst’s GQ cover shot of Rihanna as the snaked-headed monster Medusa is the most recent blow to his authorship. Starr claims to have been the first to “portray the sexy snake-haired woman.” But I take issue with Starr on this one. By now Hirst has become an easy target, but Starr has little backing to his charge since there is an entire cannon of images of Medusa that outdate both Hirst and Starr. I suspect plagiarism claims are redundant when artists have been depicting something for more than 2,500 years. She was a popular icon through out Greece and even Carvaggio was inspired by her snaky charm enough to make her an unlikely icon of baroque art in the 17th century. In fact, Carvaggio’s Medusa, a “portrait” of the monster painted on a shield, is one of the most incisive images of myth ever created. So in this instance I will charge Hirst, and Starr as well, of being guilty of  creating dull art, ordinary, uninspired, and redundant of better works.

 

 

Happy 2014! And Some Art Market Predictions for 2014

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that 2014 is off to an excellent start for everyone. To get the year rolling, I thought I would share my thoughts on this article of art market predictions by Ben Davis I found on Blouin ArtInfo.com. I’ll put the link below for y’all to read:

http://enjp.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/998386/where-next-four-art-world-predictions-for-2014

And here are my summaries and musings on his four predictions.

1. MUSEUMS GET MORE IMMERSIVE
Awesome! Museums need to start incorporating interactive technology into their exhibits as artists and audiences become more and more reliant on social media as a means of communication and expression. Plus let’s face it, the wealthy are the main art buyers and it is becoming apparent that the people getting rich are the ones inventing or are otherwise invested in technology. So I am all for it.

2. THE SILICON VALLEY CHALLENGE IS ON
So like I said, the techies are the ones making the money and it’s the wealthy that maintain the stability of the art market. And rather than spending their money traveling to banals and exhibits in other cities and countries, the high-brow of Silicon Valley have decided to host two art fairs at home, the Silicon Valley Contemporary in April and Art Silicon Valley in October. This is actually really interesting and (I think) good, because having these events suggests that even though we are in a tech-driven society the elite are still wanting to invest in the arts.

3. MFA BACKLASH REALLY SETS IN
Sadly this is a story that we all know well enough. The risk of obtaining an MFA is that you will never earn back the money you spent on your degree. (On a personal note, I am dealing with this now as I consider whether or not to pursue an advanced degree in art history.) Critics also complain about how art students risk becoming too educated and this degrades contemporary art into commercial regurgitations of previous art. I don’t completely agree with this because the innovative artists of this generation will rise above the rest to drive expression and creation like they always have before.

4. THE ART MARKET DOES NOT ESCAPE THE GRAVITY OF THE NON-ART MARKET
So the prediction is that what happens to the art market in 2014 depends on what happens in the “real” economy. This is based on the theory that because art is being sold as the new safe asset, like gold, dealers are paradoxically encouraging more people to speculate on it. Its also based on how the art economy of 2013 happened to correlate with emerging markets and the resulting investment craze. An example are the “BRIC” nations— a term coined by a Goldman Sachs economist to refer to the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Pundits made a big deal about the importance of the art economy of these countries, but the Chinese market is already in decline along with the the larger economy it’s part of (the world’s second largest). So maybe we should hope that art can continue to dodge the pitfalls of the international recessions that will most likely continue in 2014. Sorry guys. But at least in the past art investments have been able to maintain their value despite stock market declines, so lets stay positive this early in the year and hope that 2014 will continue to have record breaking sales at art auctions.