Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Council negligence invites Hepworth sculpture theft

A short stroll this afternoon around Dulwich Park, from where Barbara Hepworth's sculpture was recently stolen, revealed another likely reason why the scrap metal thieves found it so easy to gain entrance and remove the work without detection or interruption.

The park's Tudorbethan gatehouse (left) — which at one time would have been occupied by a park-keeper or groundsman — is now unoccupied and boarded up, removing a critical level of security and making it much easier to break through the adjacent park gates without being noticed. Once inside, it was not difficult for the thieves to remove the work from its base since the sculpture is located fifty yards from the gates, just off the main public path and thus screened from view. This surely constitutes a level of negligence on the part of the local council who administer the park.

The two videos below, which I filmed earlier today, give a better idea of the original location of the work beside the lake. In the first video a woman and her two young daughters lament the passing of a work that the girls had climbed upon since they were very small.

Below the videos is a link to the e-petition lobbying for a cashless scrap metal trade. Please take a minute to sign it.

The sculpture's original location:

And another view of its surrounding parkland:

Cashless Scrap Metal Trade - Amendment to Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964

Responsible department: Home Office

Due to a significant rise in value, metal has become a much sought after commodity. This increased demand has resulted in a sharp rise in metal theft nationally. Metal fencing, gates, manhole covers and other metallic items are stolen on a regular basis. Property is raided for lead, copper and cabling. War memorials and statues have been taken. Overhead power lines are stolen at serious risk to personal safety with huge costs for replacement and major inconvenience to the public. Historically the scrap metal trade has been a cash in hand industry. This creates difficulties as there is no audit trail, making identification of individuals who may be trading stolen metal or who may be committing tax or benefits fraud, a difficult proposition. An amendment to the Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964 to prohibit cash transactions would make payment by cheque or directly into a bank account mandatory and would be a significant component in reducing metal theft.

Sign the petition here

Hirst/Hockney/Rubens: Spot the Difference

David Hockney has joined a long list of far less illustrious figures criticizing Damien Hirst's 'factory' approach to making art. It began with a veiled reference to Hirst (and by extension Jeff Koons and a host of other contemporary art 'CEO's' for that matter) in the poster campaign for Hockney's forthcoming Royal Academy exhibition — "All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally."

Pressed by the Radio Times for clarification of whether this was a sly dig at Hirst, Hockney replied that the prevailing approach to art making promoted by today's art schools and adopted by Hirst et al was "a little insulting to craftsmen."

This inevitably invited the predictable gale of references to Leonardo, Rubens, and Rembrandt, all of whom used assistants. In fact, the history of art is replete with instances in which an artist's success has prompted the recruitment of assistants to help meet the demand of a growing number of collectors.

But what these knee-jerk comparisons between Hirst and Rubens always leave out is that many of the collectors who sought to acquire a work by Rubens direct from the artist stipulated that the work be made entirely by him and not by his assistants. To some clients, not even those pictures to which the artist himself applied the finishing touch were acceptable.

Henry Danvers (1573-1643), art adviser to Charles I, wrote to his colleagues recommending Rubens for a royal portrait commission, but made clear that, "In every painter's opinion he hath sent hither a piece scarce touched by his own hand," and demanded that Rubens paint another "to redeem his reputation in this house." Rubens, in response, promised "a large picture entirely by my own hand." (Jerry Brotton, The Sale of the Late King's Goods, Pan, 2006, p75).

Similar skepticism has long surrounded the work of Rembrandt for similar reasons. In the 1950s, David Roell, director of the Rijksmuseum, wisely declined an offer from Duveen Brothers in New York to buy a Portrait of Hendrickje Stoeffels, attributed to Rembrandt (right), stating that he did not "feel the inner conviction that it is entirely by the hand of Rembrandt." (Suzanne Muchnic, Odd Man In: Norton Simon and the Pursuit of Culture, University of Caifornia Press, 1998, p43). In the event the picture was sold in 1957 (as a Rembrandt) to Norton Simon for $133,500. Simon's wife Lucille later inherited it as part of their divorce settlement, but it was eventually sold at Christie's in New York in 2002 as "Studio of Rembrandt" for $152,500.

Such connoisseurial ponderings are unlikely ever to surround the work of Hirst or Koons since neither of them are artists in the sense that Rubens or Rembrandt were. Hirst and Koons are manufacturers and their output ought to be considered as 'products' rather than as works of art. The fact that they are not is testament to the impoverished critical judgement underpinning the contemporary art market. This is essentially what Hockney was referring to when he said " can teach the craft; it's the poetry you can't teach."

This also helps explain Hirst's justification for employing other people to execute his spot paintings — "I couldn't be fucking arsed doing it," he was quoted as saying.

That blunt statement implies a mean-spirited disdain for the art market and the credulous millionaires whose collective aesthetic myopia has made him rich as Croesus. In other words, they got the 'art' they deserved. The fact that his products lack poetry and indeed even craft (Hirst's butterfly pictures tend to fall to bits) — is confirmation of the gaping chasm separating Hirst — and for that matter Koons, Murakami and the rest of that warehouse generation — from Rubens, Rembrandt, and yes, despite his ludicrous recent landscapes, Hockney himself.