Tempers flare over Damien Hirst ‘copy’ of African art

Once again UK artist Damien Hirst has found himself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The bad-boy of British art has been accused of plagiarising an ancient Nigerian brass artwork in his show at the Venice Biennale. “Golden Heads (Female)” features in Hirst’s exhibit “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, which is on display at the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana museums during the Biennale.

Nigerian visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor says Hirst’s piece copies a classical African artwork found in 1938 in Ife, Nigeria without properly crediting the original Ife craftsmen. “He just made an imitation of this art”, Ehikhamenor said in an interview. “I really found that it was dishonest that something like that is going on”. Continue reading

Damien Hirst gallery crowned RIBA prize winner

The UK’s most prestigious architecture prize was last night awarded to a new gallery housing the private art collection of Damien Hirst.

Hailed as a ‘bold and confident contribution to the best of UK architecture’ the Newport Street Gallery was crowned winner of the 2016 Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Stirling Prize at a ceremony in London. Now in its twenty-first year, the prize is awarded to a UK building which fulfils a range of criteria including:

  • design vision;
  • innovation and originality;
  • capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors;
  • accessibility and sustainability;
  • how fit the building is for its purpose; and
  • the level of client satisfaction.

Designed by Caruso St John architects, the Newport Street Gallery involved the remodelling of three listed Victorian industrial buildings in Vauxhall, which once housed carpentry and scene painting workshops for London’s West End theatres. Caruso St John’s design also incorporated brand new additions finished with a specially created hard pale red brick to resemble the original listed buildings. The result, according to one member of the Stirling Prize judging panel is ‘a continuous and coherent sequence of light filled gallery spaces’. Continue reading

Are Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde artworks poisonous?

Last week a study in the journal Analytical Methods released research that suggests that some of Damien Hirst’s most famous works of art have been leaking noxious fumes.

Scientists monitoring levels of formaldehyde, which is classified as a carcinogen in the US and EU, at Hirst’s Tate Modern retrospective in 2012 recorded readings that were in excess of European regulations. The works monitored included Mother And Child Divided (1993), in which calf and cow carcasses are suspended in formaldehyde in tanks, and Away From The Flock (1994).

“One of Hirst’s main subjects is the setting-up of giant fish tanks filled by thousands of liters of FA, in which intact biological specimens are immersed, such as zebras, cows, calves, even sharks,” the report states. “It has been found that the tanks are surrounded by formaldehyde fumes, constantly exuded in the atmosphere (likely via the sealant), reaching levels of 5 ppm (parts per million), one order of magnitude higher than the 0.5ppm limit set up by legislation.”

Pier Giorgio Righetti, an author of the paper, said that his concern was not for the visitors, as “the exposure time was too short,” but its potential effect on staff. “What happened to the staff who were exposed to the fumes for five months [the exhibition run] is something the Tate should be concerned about,” Righetti said.

Damien Hirst’s company, Science Ltd., responded to the press furore with this statement: “We do regular testing and our experts tell us that at the levels reported by this journal, your eyes would be streaming and you would be in serious physical discomfort. No such complaints were made to us during the show – or at any other shows or sites featuring the formaldehyde works. We don’t believe any risk was posed to the public.”

A Tate spokesman added: “Tate always puts the safety of its staff and visitors first, and we take all the necessary precautions when installing and displaying our exhibitions. These works contained a very dilute formaldehyde solution that was contained within sealed tanks.”

Fake Hirst works circulating the art market

Auction houses and galleries are being urged to remain vigilant after it emerged that a number of counterfeit Damien Hirst works are circulating the art market.

The Antiques Trade Gazette reported on Monday (1 February) that the Hirst fakes are being sold for up to £1500-4000 both privately and by at least a half dozen auction houses. The circulation of the works came to the attention of the Hirst Authentication Committee (HIAC) during one of its most recent authentication sessions. The committee, which is authorised by the artist to authenticate his works, is remaining tight-lipped about how to identify the forgeries for fear of inspiring copycat attempts. It is urging anyone with suspicions to contact it for advice and assistance.

Despite the HIAC’s reticence, one art dealer based in London who purchased three counterfeit acrylic works from Mallams Oxford has revealed how it might be possible to spot a fake. The forgeries are said to lack viable provenance details such as the White Cube gallery where Hirst first sold his works, and to be cheaply framed. The dealer purchased the fake works at auction in July 2015 for a total of £11,776. They were catalogued by Mallams as by ‘Damien Hirst (b. 1965)’ with estimates of £2000-3000. The works were signed on the verso and featured a stamp stating they were made in Hirst’s Gloucester studio.

Following the auction, the dealer submitted his purchases to the HIAC for authentication. As authentication sessions are only held around six times a year it was not until October that he learned they were fakes. Now he is struggling to obtain a refund from Mallams who referred him to their terms and conditions which limits the return period for deliberate forgeries to within 21 days of purchase. The dealer believes this is too short a time frame in which to be able to authenticate works through the HIAC and that Mallams failed to adequately complete due diligence on the works prior to auction. The dispute is ongoing.

Director of the HIAC, James Kelly, says the committee is contacting auction houses and galleries dealing in Hirst’s pieces to caution them and to offer assistance in verifying provenance.

Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery opens to mixed reception from critics

The Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall has opened its doors to critics, with a show by the abstract painter John Hoyland (1934-2001), Power Stations Paintings 1964 -1982.

The Art Newspaper’s Louisa Buck described the works as “gloriously vivid”, and that the “lofty, beautifully proportioned top lit galleries… provide a grand and generous setting for this long overdue re-assessment”.   Continue reading