Nice to see the art world bitching at each other again. In the funniest story of the week, ageing enfant terrible Damien Hirst is engaged in a handbags at dawn confrontation with a teenage graffiti artist who he has accused of stealing…. a box of pencils. Worth five hundred grand, apparently. Yes, you read that right. Five hundred grand for a box of HBs.
It seems that the 17 year old artist, known only as Cartrain, incurred Hirst’s wrath last year by using an image of the YBA’s infamous diamond-encrusted skull in one of his own works, which was then put up for sale on an art website. Hirst flipped his lid, and lawyers got involved, resulting in Hirst claiming ownership of the offending work and demanding an apology from the website.
There it might have ended, except for the fact that Cartrain spotted an opportunity for revenge on a visit to London’s Tate Britain gallery earlier this summer. As part of their ‘Classified’ exhibition, the Tate were showing Hirst’s ‘Pharmacy’ installation (reputedly worth £10 million all told), which included the offending pencils (apparently a “very rare” box of Faber Castells from the early 1990s), and Cartrain couldn’t resist. Swiping the box, he then issued a ransom note poster, which read: “For the safe return of Damien Hirst’s pencils I would like my artworks back that… Hirst took off me in November. It’s not a large demand… Hirst has until the end of this month to resolve this or on 31 July the pencils will be sharpened. He has been warned.” I must say I particularly like the threat to sharpen the pencils, very creative – I bet Hirst (and his famously oversized ego) were quaking in their boots at this hilarious display of youthful nerve. If he wasn’t, he bloody well should have been. Bested by a teenager. How embarrassing.
However, Hirst has proved himself to be distinctly lacking a sense of humour over this incident (which is clearly an artistic statement in and of itself, something that Hirst himself should recognise from his own works – take a look in the mirror, Damien!), because, several weeks later, Cartrain arrived home one afternoon to find New Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad waiting for him with a warrant for his arrest clutched in their hot sticky paws. They even nicked his dad on suspicion of “harbouring the pencils”, quite possibly the most hilarious non-crime ever (not) committed. Cartrain is now on bail, and should he be convicted it will go down as one of the most expensive (and over-priced) art thefts in British history, although it’s not as if Hirst needs the money – he’s worth several hundred million at least. To me, this smacks of both a sense of humour bypass and an element of pettiness, as well as Hirst bullying a much younger and less famous artist just because he can. Artists have been pinching ideas off each other since… well, since art began (although I can’t imagine the prehistoric cave painters sinking so low as to sue a young Neanderthal artist at the beginning of his cave-painting career for nicking their expensive mammoth hair paintbrushes). This whole incident doesn’t make Hirst look at all good, but, with any luck, it may just make Cartrain’s name…
It’s actually been quite a week for silly people lacking in art appreciation skills, what with Hackney Council going straight to the top of the list (alongside Damien Hirst) for their attempt to destroy a much-loved Banksy mural by covering it in a thick layer of black paint, much to the distress of the wall’s owner. Despite the fact that this particular mural was doubly famous, having been commissioned by Blur’s Damon Albarn for use on the cover of the band’s 2003 single Crazy Beat, and that it was on private property (meaning that the council needed permission to remove it, which they attempted to obtain by sending letters to an address that the property owner hadn’t actually lived at for 25 years), Hackney Council went ahead nonetheless. This isn’t the first time a Banksy has been destroyed in London and nor will it be the last, despite the growing value of his works and their massive popularity. I really don’t mind seeing bits of a Damien Hirst get nicked, but will the councils of London please leave Banksy alone????