Damien Hirst and the the £500k pencils
September 4, 2009 7:25 AM   Subscribe

A teenaged graffiti artist in London has been arrested after stealing a box of pencils which were part of a Damien Hirst sculpture. The purloined pencils have been valued at £500,000, making this potentially one of the highest value art thefts in modern Britain.

The graffiti artist, named only as "Cartrain", took the pencils in protest at Hirst having some of his artworks seized from an online gallery, on grounds of copyright violation. (The originally disputed artworks were collages, which used photographs of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull, "For the Love of God".) After taking the pencils, Cartrain made a "wanted" poster, demanding the release of his artworks in return for the pencils, and threatening to sharpen them if the demand wasn't met. A few weeks later, he and his father were arrested by the Art and Antiques Squad. The box of pencils was, according to the police, a very rare "Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series", worth half a million pounds, whose theft damaged a £10-million public artwork.
posted by acb (142 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series
Note to self: Rob stationary store down the road. Buy Jamaica with proceeds. Retire.
posted by PenDevil at 7:27 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't want to be that guy who is always saying, "Modern art is bullshit," but Damian Hirst makes it really realy hard.
posted by afu at 7:32 AM on September 4, 2009 [23 favorites]


Ugh. Damien Hurst's art is so...unpleasant. This is such a case of something (pencils) having their value hyper-inflated just because they happen to be a part of a pretentious, vastly over-valued modern art monstrosity.
posted by elder18 at 7:34 AM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'd never realized that dedicated art crime detectives existed! I'm clearly in the wrong line of work.
posted by Iridic at 7:36 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nevermind his art, Damien Hurst himself is unpleasant. Extremely so.
posted by Dysk at 7:40 AM on September 4, 2009


How much are the actual pencils worth if not part of a sculpture? £500,000? Or is this price as a proportion of the artwork's cost?

When you get down to it, the Mona Lisa is just cloth and paint.
posted by mippy at 7:40 AM on September 4, 2009


Will Damien Hirst pay the ransom? - an article, with Cartrain's work in question, and info on the pencils. More from Cartrain.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:41 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


incidentally, Hirst is suing Cartrain for a lot of cash. Perhaps he doesn't remember what being an young artist is like.
posted by mippy at 7:42 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


After taking the pencils, Cartrain made a "wanted" poster, demanding the release of his artworks in return for the pencils, and threatening to sharpen them if the demand wasn't met.

I think he's my new favourite artist.
posted by mippy at 7:43 AM on September 4, 2009 [40 favorites]


Whatever happens, the teenage artist just bought himself a ticket to art fame. Hopefully he doesn't become as much of an asshole as Hirst.
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:46 AM on September 4, 2009


Here is the fake wanted poster. Probably not a fabulous idea to put Metropolitan police logos all over it.
posted by smackfu at 7:46 AM on September 4, 2009


Considering what Hirst calls "art", why is the "theft" not considered "art" as well?

God, Hirst is such a miserable son of a bitch.
posted by notsnot at 7:48 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hirst is a bit of a cock but this was not really a good idea. Stealing from the Tate gallery then publicising it. Fail.
posted by fire&wings at 7:49 AM on September 4, 2009


doesn't Hirst have anything better to do? (yes, that's rhetorical.)

maybe I'm next. I made an iron-on t-shirt with Hirst's diamond-encrusted human skull. it makes a good visual when I'm moderating discussions on the subjective nature of art with my students...and I certainly didn't get his permission to use it, but I get paid for said discussion.

better watch my back.
posted by squasha at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2009


mippy : When you get down to it, the Mona Lisa is just cloth and paint.

The Mona Lisa, however, actually counts as "art". A sterile mock storefront most certainly does not.

I'll say it for you, afu - "Modern Art" doesn't deserve the right to use that second word in its name.

Now, obviously these two had something of a history of pissing in each other's Cheerios, so I wouldn't normally care about this. But arresting his father for "harbouring the pencils"? Gimme a frickin' break. I expect the police to stay above petty crap like this - Maybe run Cartrain in for (whatever equivalent the UK has to) misdemeanor theft, give him a weekend in a cage, and call it good. But this?

And the police wonder why people see them as only protecting the rich from the poor...
posted by pla at 7:51 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


All other factors aside, I think arresting the kid's dad was a bit much.
posted by Shepherd at 7:51 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Police: "The act of theft was clearly a stunt to gain publicity."

AND WELL DONE QUASHING THAT FIENDISH PLAN, LADS.
posted by Shepherd at 7:52 AM on September 4, 2009 [39 favorites]


Thieves, robbers and more thieves having their little public dramaa. It's hard to dig up sympathy for anyone here.

For the safe return of Damien Hirsts pencils I would like my artworks back that Dacs and Hirst took off me in November. Its not a large demand he can have his pencils back when I get my artwork back.

Also, me ma needs a new caravan. Periwinkle blue.
posted by rokusan at 7:53 AM on September 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


When you get down to it, the Mona Lisa is just cloth and paint.

It's actually oil on panel. It's also an exceptionally valuable historical and cultural artifact in itself, regardless of the skill of the artist. As much as Hirst will no doubt be hissy-fitting that these pencils were utterly "integral" to his original vision and the message of his work, and that being from 1990 they are impossible to replace, in reality they are totally replaceable at a negligble cost. Nobody would notice, and I doubt a different brand of pencils will change many interpretations of this piece of art.
posted by fire&wings at 7:55 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think this Hirst quote about another piece of his is quite apt:
It's a big dilemma. Artists and conservators have different opinions about what's important: the original artwork or the original intention. I come from a conceptual art background, so I think it should be the intention. It's the same piece. But the jury will be out for a long time to come
posted by smackfu at 7:56 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Arresting the dad because he was suspected of the theft I can live with. Keeping him under arrest because he was maybe holding some pencils though? I don't care where they came from, they're pencils.

I'd go buy some more pencils and dump the whole lot into a box. See if the artist can pick his precious ones out then.

But then again, I can be a giant ass when I want to be.
posted by theichibun at 7:57 AM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Mona Lisa, however, actually counts as "art". A sterile mock storefront most certainly does not.

To whom? Is there an ISO covering art so we can all check via diagnostic criteria?

fire&wings - apologies, I don't know much about art but I knows what I like.
posted by mippy at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2009


The Mona Lisa, however, actually counts as "art". A sterile mock storefront most certainly does not. . . . "Modern Art" doesn't deserve the right to use that second word in its name.

And get off my lush, bucolic Thomas Kinkade lawn!
posted by brain_drain at 8:00 AM on September 4, 2009 [18 favorites]


A sterile mock storefront most certainly does not.

Fun fact: the Met in NYC actually has a Paris storefront in it.
posted by smackfu at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2009


they are totally replaceable at a negligble cost. Nobody would notice, and I doubt a different brand of pencils will change many interpretations of this piece of art.

Well, that's really not the test. There are some exceptional Mona Lisa fakes out there. If one stole the Mona Lisa and replaced it with one of these fakes, only the most expert eyes would notice, and no one's interpretation of the art would change.
posted by brain_drain at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2009


I wonder if any other pencils that match the description are around. Old stationary shop, perhaps? Ideally, Hirst should be presented with two identical boxes and never know if he made the right decision; the kid should then always insist Hirst took the wrong box ("Like a wanker.")
posted by klangklangston at 8:05 AM on September 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


You may not like the artist. You may not like his work. You may think this is all nonsense. But theft is theft and this art for better or worse is highly valued enough to be in a gallery.Many peripheral issues raised in these comments but they are not the issue here.
posted by Postroad at 8:06 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think, like art, the issues are whatever you perceive them to be.
posted by mippy at 8:09 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


klangklangston - I googled the brand, make and year but only got references to this story and websites comparing barrel embossing. Perhaps it means something to pencil geeks, though.
posted by mippy at 8:10 AM on September 4, 2009


Seems like the best way for the Tate to have handled this would have been to quietly replace the pencils in the installation and ignore the theft, even deny the theft. Just swap in a new box.
posted by JBennett at 8:12 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I has hoping one of the links would a YouTube video of a masked person sharpening pencils. Maybe start with a small cheap sharpener and work up to an electric model for the last one
posted by vespabelle at 8:13 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe, in the style of gnome thefts, individual pencils could be photographed in exotic locations, such as Bali and the Keswick Pencil Museum.
posted by mippy at 8:15 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not like he stole a pack of Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602's.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 8:22 AM on September 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


The only thing worse than Damien Hirst is people who feel compelled to make pronouncements about "art" based on something Hirst has done. Don't complete the circle, folks. Your outrage is the glue that binds him in his parasitic relationship with stupid rich people.
posted by felix betachat at 8:24 AM on September 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


Show some respect for the Mongol 482, philistines.

$3.80 a dozen
posted by Phanx at 8:24 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think we all know who's really to blame for this theft.

That's right. Gypsies.
posted by chowflap at 8:26 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Has anyone looked at Cartrain's work? It's just hack Bansky-derivative, student-politics stencils.

You can debate the merits of Hirsts work all you like (if you really feel like dredging up that old topic) but Cartrain is just plainly unremarkable and comes across as spiteful and desperate for attention.
posted by george_morgan at 8:27 AM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


this art for better or worse is highly valued enough to be in a gallery.

Not a single person I know, not my local friends, my friends on the 'net, no one likes Hirst's work. None of it. The only reason we can think of for his baffling and continued exposure and popularity is that there is some bizarre circular logic driving gallery curators and art critics. "His art is in a gallery, so it must be good." "Hey, someone says his art is good; we must have it in our gallery!"

And some part of me just knows that Hirst is fully aware that his "art" is crap, and he's secretly laughing at the art world as thoroughly hoodwinked critics climb over each other to be the next to kiss his ass.
posted by xedrik at 8:30 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Postroad : But theft is theft and this art for better or worse is highly valued enough to be in a gallery.Many peripheral issues raised in these comments but they are not the issue here.

Agreed, he stole the pencils - A $1.99 box of generic #2 pencils. And I said I have no problem with him "doing the time" for that crime.

As for art vs not art - I knew the obvious responses I'd get while writing that. And to some degree, I would even agree, what right do I have to deny an artist of his vision? But in answer to that - I count as part of his potential audience, part of his market. And if I can, even in some small way, send him the message that I don't consider scamming famous galleries into showing shit-on-a-stick as even remotely qualifying as "art", then I will.

Pretentious gits like this can only make a living because far too few people will call them out as utter frauds. If anything, I'd call Cartrain the "real" artist here (albeit in more of a performance-art sense), for having the wit and subtlety to turn an otherwise invisible modification to Hirst's demonstration of his qualifications to work in a supermarket, into something we can debate from thousands of miles away on an international website.
posted by pla at 8:30 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]




"Has anyone looked at Cartrain's work? It's just hack Bansky-derivative, student-politics stencils.

You can debate the merits of Hirsts work all you like (if you really feel like dredging up that old topic) but Cartrain is just plainly unremarkable and comes across as spiteful and desperate for attention.
"

Cartrain's what, 16? Banksy-derivative student-politics stencils is age appropriate!
posted by klangklangston at 8:34 AM on September 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


they are totally replaceable at a negligble cost. Nobody would notice, and I doubt a different brand of pencils will change many interpretations of this piece of art.

Yup, this is The Emperor's New Clothes playing out exactly where it must. In plain sight. I must say I love what young Mr. Cartrain is up to here and hope he pulls it off without suffering undue harm for his efforts ...

Because we all know what really happened to the little boy who pointed at the Emperor and shouted, "Mommy, why isn't that man wearing any clothes?" The boy was arrested, as were all of his family. The boy was then locked in a cage and forced to witness the slow torture of everyone he loved. Then he was slowly killed himself while the Emperor himself clarified the moral of the story:

DON'T FUCK WITH THE EMPIRE.
posted by philip-random at 8:35 AM on September 4, 2009 [28 favorites]


Couldn't we just kill both of them? There are serious issues in the world, and decent people struggling to deal with them every day.
posted by Naberius at 8:40 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


He was told by custody officers that the pencils were valued at £500,000 and that he had damaged "the concept of a public artwork titled Pharmacy ... valued at £10,000,000".
Damaging the concept, that's brilliant:

He did as much damage to the sculpture as someone who made a painting crooked. Both can be put back in their right places. But by placing the pencils into the sculpture twice, the sculpture no longer contains just pencils, it contains replaced pencils, pencils conceptually completely different.

As with man who cannot step into the same stream twice, it is no longer the same sculpture. The ontological stain cannot be erased.
posted by cotterpin at 8:42 AM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


The value of the pencils, I'd think, has nothing to do with this particular crime. The person who stole them didn't swipe a box of pencils because he needed something to write with, or because he could possibly get a buck or two by pawning them. This is a case of one artist intentionally defacing another artist's work for the purpose of blackmail, based on a recent copyright infringement altercation.

The fact that one (or both) of the artists' work isn't to people's tastes and/or the fact that pencils aren't all that valuable in and of themselves is pretty much irrelevant, in my mind.
posted by xingcat at 8:43 AM on September 4, 2009


hack Bansky-derivative

So we're being redundant now? Or would we normally expect derivative artists of a hack to be anything but hacks?
posted by explosion at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2009


Cartrain's what, 16? Banksy-derivative student-politics stencils is age appropriate!

That's true. Though the fact that he has an art dealer selling his juvenilia while he's still juvenile does seem a bit askew.

If anything, it underscores how neo-Thatcherite/Blairite Britain has become a marketing society. What Erich Fromm called the marketing personality, a sort of relentless, narcissistic self-promotion, has become the norm, and any difference from it (unless self-consciously adopted as an "anti-marketing marketing" gimmick of some sort; witness target-marketed punk/indie/folk bands and, indeed, street artists) becomes the death-wish of someone bent on being a loser.
posted by acb at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Or would we normally expect derivative artists of a hack to be anything but hacks?

In what way is Banksy a hack? His work seems to be among the more technically well-executed stencil art.
posted by acb at 8:48 AM on September 4, 2009


Cartrain's act was juvenile. Hirst's actions are, well, typical of the elite.
posted by sundri at 8:49 AM on September 4, 2009


So, xedrik, you have lots of friends and colleagues in the art world?

Art is not about liking a piece. Even if it were, you don't have to like something and it can still be art, even good art. I'm no structural engineer, and there are a lot of bridges out there that I don't like or don't understand, but I trust they're bridges that work.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2009


He did as much damage to the sculpture as someone who made a painting crooked. Both can be put back in their right places.

Wouldn't a better analogy be removing the painting from the gallery? That is a crime, you know. Even though the painting can be put back, it doesn't make you unarrested.
posted by smackfu at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2009


Because we all know what really happened to the little boy who pointed at the Emperor and shouted, "Mommy, why isn't that man wearing any clothes?" The boy was arrested, as were all of his family. The boy was then locked in a cage and forced to witness the slow torture of everyone he loved. Then he was slowly killed himself while the Emperor himself clarified the moral of the story:

DON'T FUCK WITH THE EMPIRE.
Brilliant. One for the sideblog?
posted by acb at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2009


There are serious issues in the world, and decent people struggling to deal with them every day.

If we limited Metafilter threads to 'serious issues' only....man alive, this would be a site to avoid.
posted by mippy at 8:53 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


After the Laura Keeble / Diamond Skull thing, I suspect Hirst and Cartrain are in cahoots.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 8:55 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


After the Laura Keeble / Diamond Skull thing, I suspect Hirst and Cartrain are in cahoots.

We have a winner.
posted by felix betachat at 8:56 AM on September 4, 2009


The only reason we can think of for his baffling and continued exposure and popularity is that there is some bizarre circular logic driving gallery curators and art critics.

I really like his spot paintings, and For The Love Of God had something about it. The pickled works were too overexposed by the time I got any understanding of art to really get an objective view on them, and I've never seen them up close. But, you know, a lot of popular art isn't to my taste (I find Rothko super-depressing. A Rothko calendar, you say? There's a month of gloomy Sundays.)

Incidentally, for a first time offence of shoplifting in the UK one can expect a police caution and £80 fixed penalty fine.
posted by mippy at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't a better analogy be removing the painting from the gallery? That is a crime, you know. Even though the painting can be put back, it doesn't make you unarrested

Oh he definitely stole a chunk of the sculpture, no argument there. But stealing something is not the same as damaging it.
posted by cotterpin at 9:00 AM on September 4, 2009


"Note to self: Rob stationary store down the road."

At least being stationary it won't be hard to find.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:02 AM on September 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Brilliant. One for the sideblog?

God, this place is becoming so Philistine.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 9:03 AM on September 4, 2009


xingcat : The fact that one (or both) of the artists' work isn't to people's tastes and/or the fact that pencils aren't all that valuable in and of themselves is pretty much irrelevant, in my mind.

Moving on from my opinion of Hirst (which I think I've made clear), I would still call the legitimacy of Hirst's work here as possibly the central issue - To wit, the material crime consists only of stealing a cheap pack of pencils; The larger crime of "causing damage to an iconic artwork" absolutely requires that we accept Hirst's... ahem... installation, as "art".

Unless we deem Hirst an actual artist, the crime amounts to petty theft. The entire existence of a serious crime here depends on a subjective determination of art vs not-art.
posted by pla at 9:04 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I always figured that a big part of Hirst's success was his ability to manage his public relations - making himself the center of his art, as opposed to the work being the centerpiece itself. In other words, his persona provides the credibility for people to interpret his work as he expects you to. He sets it up so that HE raises his work to at. The Nike of Samothrace, the Mona Lisa, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte - these all stand or fall on their own merits. Information about the artist or his "concepts" informs the work, but you don't need that information to understand and fully appreciate the work. If you look at folks like Warhol, you can see a careful balance between the artist persona and the art itself. For Hirst, there is no such balance. You can't divorce the art from the artist because deep down he sees himself as the art. That's why he talks a lot about the concept being the important thing.

Even factoring in the fact that his art and personality is intertwined, the fact that he is letting a sixteen year old get the best of him is weird. I would expected him to be savvier. There are multiple ways to win the war with the kid (beginning with not letting yourself be baited over and over and over again), but Hirst seems unable to identify any of them. This sixteen year old isn't a supergenius (I don't think he expected to get in this much trouble), but he's totally going to take advantage of it as long as he can, and pressing all of Hirst's buttons along the way.

Or they're both in it together.

on preview: Dangit! Extopalopaketle beat me to it.
posted by julen at 9:07 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


STATIONERY
posted by owtytrof at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2009


Unless we deem Hirst an actual artist, the crime amounts to petty theft.

The work was in an art gallery, and one of note, on display. I think there's little room for interpretation on this front. 'Blah blah blah mock storefront blah blah emperor blah blah.' We get it. You don't think it's art, or he is an artist. Not relevant. His work is on show in an art gallery, and he makes a living out of creating such work.
posted by mippy at 9:11 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't a better analogy be removing the painting from the gallery? That is a crime, you know. Even though the painting can be put back, it doesn't make you unarrested.

A better analogy would be pulling the badge off a Mercedes Benz. I've no idea what the current punishment is for something like that, small fine maybe. Barely worth prosecuting.

I wonder if anyone would have noticed the missing pencils if the boy hadn't started putting posters up.
posted by fire&wings at 9:12 AM on September 4, 2009


I'm still pretty certain Cartrain doesn't even exist.

Pics or it didn't happen, Damien!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:12 AM on September 4, 2009


The work was in an art gallery, and one of note, on display. I think there's little room for interpretation on this front. 'Blah blah blah mock storefront blah blah emperor blah blah.' We get it. You don't think it's art, or he is an artist. Not relevant. His work is on show in an art gallery, and he makes a living out of creating such work.

He didn't steal the work, the work is a huge room with thousands of things in it.
posted by fire&wings at 9:12 AM on September 4, 2009


Almost with you pla, but I'm getting the sense that 'subjective' is being used synonymously with 'arbitrary' or 'random'. Determination of art vs not-art is made in a vast historic and cultural infrastructure. There are rules.

My guess is that unless we've been following & participating in the development of the Western fine / modern / contemporary art culture for the last, oh two decades or so, it's going to look like Hirst popped out of nowhere and he really doesn't make sense.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 9:13 AM on September 4, 2009


"The ontological stain cannot be erased."

I am struck by that phrase. Can I start using it all over the place, for practically every eventuality of my daily life? Or will that land me in jail?
posted by Naberius at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


He didn't steal the work, the work is a huge room with thousands of things in it.

"Why is there a gap on this shelf?" "Oh, someone stole the pencils that were there." "Oh, cool."

the development of the Western fine / modern / contemporary art culture for the last, oh two decades or so

Duchamp was making readymades like Fountain and Bicycle Wheel almost a century ago.
posted by smackfu at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2009


I think, in this case the simple and plain answer is: yes, Hirst is an artist, yes it it art. How Damien Hirst works isn't really all that remarkable in the context of contemporary art. Working in media other than oil painting or sculpture hasn't been controversial in itself since the early 1900s. The precedent was set a long time ago.

Through all the publicity he got in the early 90s, he seems to somehow be always judged in isolation against easier to accept, more established art. The argument is always Mona Lisa (prominent, obvious, old) vs. Damien Hirst as though he has to personally justify the last 100 years of evolution in art.
posted by george_morgan at 9:21 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Art is not about liking a piece.

Art is just the opposite of Meh.
posted by rokusan at 9:22 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Why is there a gap on this shelf?" "Oh, someone stole the pencils that were there." "Oh, cool."

The pencil's aren't the work, the room is. People are hung upon the fact it was a packet of pencils, a whole object. This is no different to breaking the finger from a sculpture and keeping it - minor damage inflicted on the work and the criminal escapes with something of little or no resale value. Not a major art theft.
posted by fire&wings at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2009


In what world would an art museum be cool with you breaking the finger off one of the sculptures?
posted by smackfu at 9:25 AM on September 4, 2009


I'm still pretty certain Cartrain doesn't even exist.

I saw his stencils around Shoreditch a few years ago. "Sub-Banksy" is an accurate description of his style and their execution.

Of course, that doesn't prove that there's an actual graffiti artist named Cartrain; for all we know, Hirst's management firm may well have hired some Polish blokes at the labour exchange, handed them some badly-cut stencils and paid them cash in hand to put them up, all to set this up a few years later.
posted by acb at 9:26 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is no different to breaking the finger from a sculpture and keeping it -

I don't think taking the pencils is a big deal at all. But, if the kid had broken something off, I'd be part of the pileon calling for his hide. Destruction is not at all the same thing as temporary relocation of a mass produced item with little intrinsic value.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 9:26 AM on September 4, 2009


Duchamp was making readymades like Fountain and Bicycle Wheel almost a century ago.

Except that they might not actually have been readymades.
posted by acb at 9:28 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Art is, among other things, whatever you can get £10m from some sucker for. It's a big tent.
posted by jfuller at 9:29 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Damien Hirst is an asshole. If he had any sense, he'd cut himself in half and put the pieces in glass cubes.

It is a testament to modern absurdity that a man can hire an intern to paint dots on a canvass and the sell it for millions. Steal that fucker's pencils.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:32 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Art is, among other things, whatever you can get £10m from some sucker for.

Though in this case, is it the object which is art, or is it the framing of it as "art" which is the actual piece of art?
posted by acb at 9:37 AM on September 4, 2009


Artists having 'assistants' is hardly a new thing.
posted by mippy at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2009




It is a testament to modern absurdity that a man can hire an intern to paint dots on a canvass and the sell it for millions.

Not so modern, really. Sol Lewitt has been doing it for 40 years.

I feel like these same arguments would have been made back in "Mad Men" days.
posted by smackfu at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2009


cf. Pablo Picasso
posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2009


In Los Angeles there is a rule of alleyways that don't have enough room for more than one car-- the more expensive/unusual car gets to go forward, the less expensive one backs out.

The same goes in the art world. If it were Banksy challenging Hirst, his act would be considered great art. Because it is "Cartrain", Hirst wins this art snit.
posted by cell divide at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Confession:

About five years ago, I attended an opening for an artist who made rather elaborate installations out of every day thing and it wasn't entirely clear where the art stopped and the gallery began. My friend and I were discussing this as we snacked on Twizzlers and M&Ms served in cunning glass boxes at what we believed was the gallery's unconventional refreshment area. Suffice it to say, we were wrong and shortly thereafter it became necessary for us to flee the scene.

Having accidentally eaten part of an installation, I can certainly vouch for how conceptual art can complicate things, especially if you've visited the bar before attending the opening. And though I genuinely feel bad about fucking up someone's vision, I shudder to think what those Twizzlers might have cost had we been apprehended.
posted by thivaia at 10:03 AM on September 4, 2009 [71 favorites]


Artists have had assistants - of all types (administrative, apprentice, implementer/detailers, subcontractors) - for centuries. Muralists from Michelangelo to Rivera and forward would not have been able to complete their pieces without other artists who color or outline or contribute to the overall work, whether it is the creation of an individual figure or landscape background. (Analogous roles are played when creating in non-paint media, too) This seems to be true (especially for backgrounds) for artists-in-demand-in-their-own-time throughout history. Assistantship can a good way for young artists to find a path into becoming independent self-supporting artists themselves, particularly if you want to be a part of the Art World. Many good and great artists started out as assistants.

The level of actual implementation into a piece of work by the artist of record can shift from studio to studio; Hirst frequently has an idea, does or starts a few pieces in the style, and then sets his assistants to finish exploring the idea. At the other end of the art world from Hirst, Thomas Kinkaide would argue that he's deriving from the same assistants tradition, marrying it with technology, and producing his art that way. For the consumer, it's a question of how much comfort you have with the the artist and his methods of production, and how much you believe that what you are seeing represents the artistic voice and/or hand of the person whose name is attached to it.
posted by julen at 10:14 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Reading the article on Cartrain @mippy linked to, I get the impression that what he admires, and seeks to imitate, about Banksy is not his technique or his ideas but the fact that he is famous.

Perhaps there should be a reality TV show for people who want to be famous edgy subversive underground street artists?
posted by acb at 10:18 AM on September 4, 2009


Perhaps the most interesting bit of Hirst's Wikipedia bio in light of this event is that he was himself twice arrested for shoplifting in his own youth, which suggests that maybe his next installation should be his own picture in a dictionary under the word "hypocrite."
posted by localroger at 10:20 AM on September 4, 2009


Can anyone prove that the pencils were actually stolen and if so, that the pencils in possession of Cartrain are the pencils in question? It seems all the boy has to say is that he bought a pack of pencils at a store and only claimed they were from Hirst's exhibit.
posted by stavrogin at 10:21 AM on September 4, 2009


Your outrage is the glue that binds him in his parasitic relationship with stupid rich people.

Best argument for Damien Hirst's work imaginable!

This snark was brought to you by the Mirado Black Warrior I was going to link to something about the Black Warrior, but I got caught up in the exquisite glory of pencil-nerd sites. (They all hate the Black Warrior since Papermate bought the company.) I'd love to get my hands on these Korean pencils, but apparently they're very hard to find; I may end up with these.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2009


Perhaps the most interesting bit of Hirst's Wikipedia bio in light of this event is that he was himself twice arrested for shoplifting in his own youth, which suggests that maybe his next installation should be his own picture in a dictionary under the word "hypocrite."

Further to my theory, Hirst and Cartrain are the same person.

Cartrain has actually traveled back in time as Hirst, to eventually create the Pharmacy installation wherein Cartrain (to be Hirst) will steal the pencils, making him famous. Eventually, Cartrain builds a time machine and for his final art piece, he travels to a time before he was born to "create the artist 'Damien Hirst'".

This will become apparent when Hirst takes on Cartrain as an apprentice, dies within the next 5 years, and Cartrain eventually rises to fame.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 10:36 AM on September 4, 2009


Don't steal my art, my achy breaky art...
posted by Naberius at 10:41 AM on September 4, 2009


Personally, I side with Cartrain's right to sell his 'for the Love of God' prints, which might well be protected by the doctrine of Fair Use had he been based in America.

Questions of authorship vs. ownership are unavoidable when discussing Hirst. It's no secret that Hirst doesn't enjoy actually making artworks, but employs a large staff to do. Well, it does provide jobs, but you might wonder just why 'Pharmacy' is valued at £11.1 million. Whether you think it's actually worth that amount is another question, which will probably not be resolved here.

Luckily for us, Orson Welles has already addressed this question.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:03 AM on September 4, 2009


Hirst's 'art' is an elaborate performance, of which this incident is just a small but welcome part. All the fuss, including comments of the "Damien Hurst's art is so...unpleasant" sort, seen above, serves as thunderous applause to his expansive drama. Public disdain is just part of the plan... the more you wrinkle your nose, the more expensive these artworks become.
posted by gyusan at 11:17 AM on September 4, 2009


So wait, this artwork, it's symbolic, right? I mean he took some normal items, arranged them in the normal way you'd expect them to be arranged in a pharmacy, but by the artist's decree, it was not a pharmacy, it was Art.

And then this kid symbollically takes one of those items as one may be inclined to do in a normal pharmacy, but all the people involved--up to and including police officers--are bound by the decree and must proceed as though the pencils are worth their imaginary sum, rather than their true value?

Forget the vendetta, kid. You should've claimed "performance art." If this goes to trial, the proceedings therein could be an existentialist masterpiece.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 11:18 AM on September 4, 2009


Threatening to sharpen the pencils is pretty great, though.
posted by graventy at 11:18 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hirst's art is explicitly about wealth and power relations, and takes a particularly unforgiving view of the role of wealth and power in human society.

His work frames wealth and power as literally nothing more than the public exhibition of death, theft, and exploitation.

There is no way that he would react in any other fashion than that he is exhibiting, because to show mercy and kindness to the kid would be to undercut the whole thrust of Hirst's work. He's trapped by all those diamonds and their hard glint.

I would LOVE to be entertained by a Hirst/Banksy bareknuckles brawl. Hirst would win - money and power always do - but Banksy would exercise the man in ways that makes this kid's run look like a Sunday stroll.

OTOH I do like the idea that the kid is a plant.
posted by mwhybark at 11:20 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, Hirst stole nature's design of a skull. Nature should sue.
posted by Cranberry at 11:27 AM on September 4, 2009


Couldn't we just kill both of them? There are serious issues in the world, and decent people struggling to deal with them every day.

But the snark value alone has got to be worth at least £10m.

I'd love to get my hands on these Korean pencils

My old friend Bobby Nyahoe always used to say, 'Man, those white beef can't get enough of the Black Wood.'

I had no idea he was talking about a preference for Korean pencils though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:31 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Throughout Tom Hodgkinson's otherwise enjoyable book, How to be free, he keeps suggesting that if we truly want to be free we need to become more like Damien Hirst, for reasons that escape me now. This single suggestion manages to turn his book into a nightmarish vision of the most hellish dystopia ever conceived.
posted by dng at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2009


Reading the article on Cartrain @mippy linked to, I get the impression that what he admires, and seeks to imitate, about Banksy is not his technique or his ideas but the fact that he is famous.

Well, the kid is 16. The lust for fame may be misguided at any age, but it's never more understandable and/or expected than from a 16 year old.

Assuming Cartrain does have some genuine talent (whatever that means), I can't help but see a parallel here to young Arthur Rimbaud (14 at the time, I think) showing up in Paris and literally pissing on the Poetry Establishment, all of whose names have long since been forgotten ... with the possible exception of Verlaine who, of course, fell madly in love with the punk.
posted by philip-random at 11:36 AM on September 4, 2009


This single suggestion manages to turn his book into a nightmarish vision of the most hellish dystopia ever conceived.

I'm thinking Nietzsche's Übermensch via Bret Easton Ellis.
posted by acb at 11:41 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


i've stolen pencils from a pharmacy. sharpened them, too.
posted by lester at 11:43 AM on September 4, 2009


Suffice it to say, we were wrong and shortly thereafter it became necessary for us to flee the scene.

You might not have been wrong. Félix González-Torres famously made a work that consisted of a huge pile of candy in the corner of the gallery. It was his intention that viewers take a piece with them when they left and that the work therefore slowly diminish and disappear over time (to be refreshed later by the gallery owner). This and other works of his that involved the viewer taking bits with them were reflections on life and death, and in particular on the slow, wasting death of his lover Ross from AIDS. Incredibly moving work, actually.
posted by The Bellman at 12:44 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


How much is a box of pencils worth? Fifty pence? £3.99 if the pencils have rubbers on the ends?

103-ish comments in, and not even a nod in this direction. Sad.
posted by gurple at 12:45 PM on September 4, 2009


...he and his father were arrested by the Art and Antiques Squad...

Do they have special uniforms, insignia, or badges?
posted by Mister_A at 12:55 PM on September 4, 2009


The only thing worse than bad modern art is the people who line up to claim everything they don't like "isn't art".
posted by bradbane at 1:13 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


bradbane : The only thing worse than bad modern art is the people who line up to claim everything they don't like "isn't art".

I don't like beets, but I acknowledge them as food.

I like computers, but I sure as hell don't try to eat them.
posted by pla at 1:20 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


How much is a box of pencils worth? Fifty pence? £3.99 if the pencils have rubbers on the ends?

103-ish comments in, and not even a nod in this direction. Sad.

Because it's a foolish line of thought and not worthy of pursuit. The stolen material was part of a work of art, and regardless of whether you like the work of art or not, evaluating the theft on some sort of market-value basis is incredibly disingenuous. If I were to tear a corner off Picasso's Guernica and identify it as ten cents worth of paint, you'd think it was ridiculous.

There's a reductive element to the criticism of Hirst's work in this thread that I find really distressing. I'm not a big fan, but I at least recognize Pharmacy as part of a very long, very slow conversation that artists have been having about nature and aesthetics, and the world, and how we interact with art and what surrounds us. This conversation has been going on for thousands of years, at a glacial pace. A lot of it is above my head. And while I'm not convinced that Hirst is adding much of value to the discussion, I'm willing to accept that he's at least trying to participate in it in good faith.

I've been hearing why-my-five-year-old-could-do-that arguments against modern art since I was old enough to recognize art, and it's part of a broad pattern of anti-intellectualism and anti-curiosity that festers and rots in the heart of our culture. I'm a bit surprised by some of the people in this thread that are taking up the "modern art is crap" banner, because they're folks I would generally accept to stand behind free speech and free expression.

This whole "well they're just pencils" argument is dumb. Honestly. It's Rudy Guliani vs. Piss Christ dumb. It's the echo of an echo of the same thoughtless braying I've heard in art galleries all my life; men in loud shirts proclaiming that Warhol is "bullshit" and Picasso "draws like a retard." It's the first bare patch on a long and slippery slope that ends at art only being what at least 51% of the population is actively entertained by.

Just because you don't like Pharmacy and don't like Hirst doesn't mean you have the right to fuck with the man's art. Criticize it, do something better, make a placard and protest the damn thing. I don't care. I think Pharmacy is a tired retread of some ideas Warhol had long before I was born, and is probably a waste of time and resources. But there are also a lot of books I don't like, and I don't think they should be burnt, either.
posted by Shepherd at 1:29 PM on September 4, 2009 [16 favorites]


Well said, Shepherd.
posted by Mister_A at 1:53 PM on September 4, 2009


Yeah, but the one high value art theft balances out the two petty ones.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:00 PM on September 4, 2009


Not a single person I know, not my local friends, my friends on the 'net, no one likes Hirst's work. None of it. - xedrick

Hi, xedrick. My name is Andy, and although we're not internet friends or anything, I wanted to let you know that I love Damien Hirst and I love his art work. I don't love every piece of it, but certainly taken as a whole, I love it. I got a real kick out of standing in front of the shark in the tank, which I stumbled upon by chance at the Met. I love him and his artwork so much that I boiled and rendered a lamb's head just so I could pay homage to "For the Love of God" with my own piece of art.
posted by andoatnp at 2:08 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


This whole "well they're just pencils" argument is dumb. Honestly. It's Rudy Guliani vs. Piss Christ dumb. It's the echo of an echo of the same thoughtless braying I've heard in art galleries all my life; men in loud shirts proclaiming that Warhol is "bullshit" and Picasso "draws like a retard." It's the first bare patch on a long and slippery slope that ends at art only being what at least 51% of the population is actively entertained by.

That's all well and good, but this really was just a box of pencils. That said box of pencils appreciates in value to the tune of a million damn dollars simply because a certain man sets it down in a certain building is quite worthy of ridicule, if not outrage vis-à-vis the current economic climate.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:21 PM on September 4, 2009


I've been hearing why-my-five-year-old-could-do-that arguments against modern art since I was old enough to recognize art, and it's part of a broad pattern of anti-intellectualism and anti-curiosity that festers and rots in the heart of our culture. I'm a bit surprised by some of the people in this thread that are taking up the "modern art is crap" banner, because they're folks I would generally accept to stand behind free speech and free expression.

I don't think that argument is entirely anti-intellectual or anti-free-speech. I mean, undoubtedly there is a pattern of anti-intellectuality (in the U.S., anyway), and some of the people making that argument are part of that pattern, and plenty of folks would love to keep public money away from modern art. But there's another side to "my 5-year-old could do that", which is bemoaning the deemphasis of skill and craft. I like all the crazy intellectual modern-art games, but I also like seeing a really good painting, by someone who really knows how to paint well. When people say their 5-year-old can do that, they're referring to the craft aspect, not the intellectual aspect. Sure, some people are totally ignorant of the intellectual aspect, but I think plenty of others are just complaining that the pendulum has swung too far in that direction.
posted by equalpants at 2:30 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shepherd : There's a reductive element to the criticism of Hirst's work in this thread that I find really distressing.

Wonderful, wonderful! I see my performance of "Reductionism #17" has succeeded wildly. Thank you for participating. You can buy a limited edition hand-signed-and-numbered DVD of me posting to this thread while defecating on a puppy at my website for only $1499.95. You can't actually watch it, of course, because I break each one in half in a unique and artistically meaningful way before shipping it to you.

Unless... You wouldn't mean to deny the legitimacy of my artistic expression just because you don't like it, would you?

(I don't mean this personally, BTW, just trying to make a point - If you can't tell whether something counts as art or a put-on, the latter wins)
posted by pla at 2:38 PM on September 4, 2009


Hirst is obviously nothing more than a businessman.

And the 500,000 pound valuation is so apparently arbitrary as to seem profoundly unjust. Who decided they were worth exactly that much? Why not a million pounds?
posted by clockzero at 2:44 PM on September 4, 2009


Isn't this really all just a scam to try and create some sort of buzz around what amounts to more of the same from Hirst. I'm sure they considered Banksy before deciding that his fame might actually eclipse Hirst's, then settling on cartrain because he's a nobody. So who's really the loser here? Hirst gets print around his latest work that otherwise might not make even get a review in most papers, cartrain gets to be an internet celebrity for 10 minutes and the Tate also get free advertising for their latest venture. If cartrain ever has to actually pay £50K, I'd be very surprised.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:46 PM on September 4, 2009


This Hirst sounds like a real douche-champ.
posted by Hoopo at 2:59 PM on September 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


If the integrity of the piece is determined by not just having a box of pencils on the shelf, but that box of pencils... who's to say that the installation hasn't already had its true roll of scotch tape or bottle of ibuprofen swapped out for a worthless, identical mass-produced copy by some passerby? And if that had happened, wouldn't that mean that the installation's value was already irredeemably damaged?
posted by rivenwanderer at 3:27 PM on September 4, 2009


Even factoring in the fact that his art and personality is intertwined, the fact that he is letting a sixteen year old get the best of him is weird. I would expected him to be savvier.
This is going to end up being those annoying situations where someone -- maybe Hirst himself -- points to this MeFi thread and/or other similar places and says, "See!? The discussion of 'what is the value of the pencils?' is part of an important dialog about how we perceive art!"
posted by deanc at 3:41 PM on September 4, 2009


Just because you don't like Pharmacy and don't like Hirst doesn't mean you have the right to fuck with the man's art.

Level 1: couldn't agree with you more.

Level 2: hmmm? Hirst is f***ing rich, and as such, capable of throwing his weight around in all kinds of dubious ways, including imposing his "vision" upon me and my experience in a way that I cannot upon his; so given this imbalance, maybe some minor felony is the only way I can fight back ... because this is capital "A" ART we're talking about, and as such, WAR.
posted by philip-random at 3:42 PM on September 4, 2009


I remember the last time Hirst had a spat with an unknown, young graf artist. He needs a new shtick. I'm reading a book about the old theft of the Mona Lisa, and I (probably more than anyone else in this thread) repect a good theft, but a pack of pencils is not so impressive. So, in conclusion, neither artist has amazed me today. Oh well, neo post post modern art, where art thou?
posted by fuq at 3:53 PM on September 4, 2009


If the integrity of the piece is determined by not just having a box of pencils on the shelf, but that box of pencils... who's to say that the installation hasn't already had its true roll of scotch tape or bottle of ibuprofen swapped out for a worthless, identical mass-produced copy by some passerby?

A lot of the issues brought up in this thread have been discussed to death in the art world since long before I was born and then had to learn about them in art school. What's the difference between a Warhol Brillo box and one you buy at the store? Why is one art and the other not? If you really care, look up Arthur Danto's "indistinguishable pairs" theory (and criticisms of it). This stuff is nothing new, a lot of Hirst's work is part of that dialog.
posted by bradbane at 4:09 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artists having 'assistants' is hardly a new thing.

Yeah
posted by fire&wings at 4:48 PM on September 4, 2009


I'm with graventy; the one bit of genius in this whole silly affair is Cartrain's threat to sharpen the pencils. This shows just how ridiculous Hirst's asshattery is; by sharpening the pencils and making them "used" they're "ruined" for whatever dubious purpose (one might observe in any event a rather small purpose) they serve in the Pharmacy installation; yet at the same time, the entire purpose of a pencil is lost if it is never sharpened. So if these artifacts are no longer realized by being used, what exactly have they become and how? One suspects, considering the smallness of their role in the installation and the obnoxiousness of Hirst's response, that they're just a bunch of fucking pencils and the best possible denouement of this would be the SWAT team facing off against Cartrain as he holds a pencil hostage in the sharpener, one hand on the Handle of Doom. MAKE ONE MOVE AND THE NO. 2 GETS IT ASSHOLES. The resultant tasering will definitely count as art.
posted by localroger at 5:12 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


That does it, I'm commissioning cheap knock-offs of For the Love of God and sell them on streets of Chinatown at $1 a pop.

Hirst is a businessman, first and foremost; brutally effective and successful.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 5:45 PM on September 4, 2009


This whole "well they're just pencils" argument is dumb.

I'm not sure about that.

I think Hirst is falling into the trap of mistaking the map for the territory. I realize he's a Very Important Artist who makes a lot of money, but surely Hirst isn't so dense that he thinks those particular pencils are singularly capable of conveying his creation, rather than other ones. Of course, Cartrain has one up on him, although he clearly did it in a way which humiliated Hirst, but without real damage, and the prankish quality invited a creative and/or more mature reaction, but it put Hirst in complete reactive mode, and instead of being creative or mature he became litigious. He missed a great opportunity.

Unlike a lot of people here I actually like some of Hirst's work. I thought For the Love of God was pretty shallow but very effective. I wanted to hate it but had to admit he created a powerful symbol, but not really challenging or novel. Besides the publicity, the only new thing Hirst added to the conversation was the price, but there's something about it, sort of dazzlingly banal, kind of like a disco ball made of Waterford crystal (maybe that's a bit too close to be a good analogy), or a Big Mac with Kobe beef, but this isn't really abstract or difficult stuff here, and it's not hard to see why people call his work sophomoric. I think he's limited by his audience and his own desires, however, and perhaps his inflated sense of self-importance. Although it's true that so much of his work depends on Hirst the public person, his work might be more interesting if Hirst didn't seem so preoccupied with both himself and money.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:10 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


A lot of the issues brought up in this thread have been discussed to death in the art world since long before I was born and then had to learn about them in art school. What's the difference between a Warhol Brillo box and one you buy at the store? Why is one art and the other not? If you really care, look up Arthur Danto's "indistinguishable pairs" theory (and criticisms of it). This stuff is nothing new, a lot of Hirst's work is part of that dialog.

That's true, but the avenue he's using for his part of the conversation is not very interesting. I guess lawyering-up could be considered art, but I'm not really getting into this particular expression of it.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:18 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602's - Wow. I had no idea. My father was a gifted artist with a LOT of art materials which I got when he moved into assisted living. Amongst these items are several boxes of exactly those pencils. Several hundred althogether. Wow.

They're in storage right now but, I think I'll go bring those home.

I feel like I've been on the Antique Roadshow or something.
posted by bz at 6:33 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having accidentally eaten part of an installation, I can certainly vouch for how conceptual art can complicate things, especially if you've visited the bar before attending the opening.

There's a wonderful similar story about Al and Bibbie Hansen (fluxus artists, and mother and grandfather of Beck). Al was aloof, obviously, and was always leaving Bibbie alone as a young girl for days at a time. One weekend, leaving Bibbie alone in the house with no food, Bibbie started scouring the place for something to eat. Coming across a Campbell's soup can, she proceeded to open it up only to find it empty. As you've probably guessed, it was a signed Warhol.

Also a wonderful similar story somewhere in Danto about the bed exhibit, in which someone laid down on the bed, no knowing it was a piece of art.

Moral of the story? Always check the urinal for a signature before you piss in it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:00 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've been hearing why-my-five-year-old-could-do-that arguments against modern art since I was old enough to recognize art, and it's part of a broad pattern of anti-intellectualism and anti-curiosity that festers and rots in the heart of our culture. I'm a bit surprised by some of the people in this thread that are taking up the "modern art is crap" banner, because they're folks I would generally accept to stand behind free speech and free expression.

Try ignoring it. There's certainly little of it happening in this thread.

This whole "well they're just pencils" argument is dumb. Honestly. It's Rudy Guliani vs. Piss Christ dumb. It's the echo of an echo of the same thoughtless braying I've heard in art galleries all my life; men in loud shirts proclaiming that Warhol is "bullshit" and Picasso "draws like a retard." It's the first bare patch on a long and slippery slope that ends at art only being what at least 51% of the population is actively entertained by.

100% 18ct gold bullshit. They're just pencils because the they're just pencils. I get Damien Hirst, I like Damien Hirst. I'm not going to be blown over by the "you just don't get it" histrionic flag waving. These are pencils. A branded, untouched packet of pencils. They have nothing in common with Picasso or Warhol or Andres Serrano. They can be replaced and nobody is any the wiser. They can be stolen and - wanted posters notwithstanding - nobody is any the wiser. Because Damien Hirst touched them and put them down on a table makes them neither irreplaceable nor worth £500,000. Unlike a 10cm piece of Guernica or a vial of Andre Serrano's piss.
posted by fire&wings at 7:01 PM on September 4, 2009


Anyone who wants to support Cartrain, check out his work for sale here (including one of the collages mentioned in the FPP) .
posted by rottytooth at 7:23 PM on September 4, 2009


Can we move off the OMGZORZ THERE'S NO WAY PENCILS ARE WORTH A BAZILLION DOLLARS LOL thing, please?

The dollar value is a red herring; it's a deterrent against the next tool that wanders up to an installation art exhibit and thinks it'd be hilarious to steal part of it. This happens constantly in law: grossly exaggerated penalties and lawsuit awards that aren't meant to represent penny-for-penny values, but to act as a scare tactic against other people who decide to behave stupidly. It's not meant to represent the value of a packet of pencils. It's meant to represent the idea that you can do irreperable harm to something by dicking with it, especially if you don't understand it.

Secondly, no, they're not "just pencils," any more than the first dozen words of A Tale of Two Cities are "just words," or the top half of Van Gogh's Irises is "just canvas," or Pavarotti performing Puccini is "some dude yelling."

I don't know why Hirst chose those pencils, or why they're in that piece, or what purpose they serve. It's not my business to know. I don't wander into Don DeLillo's study and rip up the first ten pages of his manuscript because I deem they're "not important," I don't toddle onto the stage during a performance of Hamlet and sock David Tennant in the jaw because I don't think he's doing a great job.

I repeat: Just because you don't like Pharmacy and don't like Hirst doesn't mean you have the right to fuck with the man's art.

You're welcome to analyze it and critique it and dismiss it and poo-pooh it. Go to town. But to sit there behind a keyboard and tell me that it's okay to fuck with it because you have magical insight that lets you, and you alone, determine which parts of a work of art are relevant and which are expendable? That's ludicrous.

Because Damien Hirst touched them and put them down on a table makes them neither irreplaceable nor worth £500,000. Unlike a 10cm piece of Guernica or a vial of Andre Serrano's piss.


I can find you a dozen guys via the Internet that can paint a reasonable facisimile of Guernica. Andre Serrano's piss is indistinguishable from mine, and last time I checked, the guy's still pissing. So yes: Because Damien Hirst touched them and put them down on a table makes them both irreplacable and worth (amount that dissuades idiots from fucking with them). In exactly the same way that 10 cents worth of canvas and a vial of piss are invaluable.

Jesus flaming Christ, I don't even like Hirst. I'd rather he turn his "talents" to gardening, or beekeeping, or something that keeps his "brilliance" the fuck out of the public sphere. But that doesn't give me the right to decide which percentage of his work is integral and which percentage is okay to destroy, because none of it is okay to destroy.
posted by Shepherd at 7:32 PM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I can find you a dozen guys via the Internet that can paint a reasonable facisimile of Guernica. Andre Serrano's piss is indistinguishable from mine, and last time I checked, the guy's still pissing. So yes: Because Damien Hirst touched them and put them down on a table makes them both irreplacable and worth (amount that dissuades idiots from fucking with them). In exactly the same way that 10 cents worth of canvas and a vial of piss are invaluable.

Are you seriously comparing the "10 cents" worth of canvas in Guernica to a packet of pencils?

And last I checked none of his work has been destroyed.
posted by fire&wings at 7:42 PM on September 4, 2009


Who said it was okay to fuck with it? People are saying that the proposed penalty for the fucking-with-it (£500,000) is disproportionate to the actual damages caused by the fucking-with-it.

Certainly it was wrong for the guy to steal the pencils. But that doesn't mean that the size of the penalty is off-limits for discussion. If Hirst had claimed the pencils were worth £750,000, would you be saying "no way, Hirst, those are only worth £500,000"?
posted by equalpants at 7:50 PM on September 4, 2009


The dollar value is a red herring; it's a deterrent against the next tool that wanders up to an installation art exhibit and thinks it'd be hilarious to steal part of it. This happens constantly in law: grossly exaggerated penalties and lawsuit awards that aren't meant to represent penny-for-penny values, but to act as a scare tactic against other people who decide to behave stupidly. It's not meant to represent the value of a packet of pencils. It's meant to represent the idea that you can do irreperable harm to something by dicking with it, especially if you don't understand it.

Reading this gave me such relief -- like taking-a-massive-dump-because-I've-been-constipated-for-three-days relief. No doubt because I've my head up my ass.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 7:54 PM on September 4, 2009


Shepherd observes: There's a reductive element to the criticism of Hirst's work in this thread that I find really distressing.

You know, I would feel quite different had Hirst taken the simple step of gluing the pieces together. As I pointed out above, it's not that Pharmacy is a single work valued at $18 million, but that that is the sum total of the values the individual components fetched at auction when the restaurant (in which they were all part of the decor) closed down in 2005. This would be kind of like valuing the toilets in the Tate based on the last recorded price of Fountain.

I've been hearing why-my-five-year-old-could-do-that arguments against modern art since I was old enough to recognize art, and it's part of a broad pattern of anti-intellectualism and anti-curiosity that festers and rots in the heart of our culture.

I emphatically disagree with you here - not that such a pattern festers, but that the skepticism about Pharmacy is part of it. Pharmacy frankly offends me because the only reason for its high book value is Hirst and his brand value. There are many cases of people lavishing care and attention on the design of something similar, whether on film sets or in commercial contexts. It's true Hirst worked on it for a year, but hey, I have things I have worked on for a year too.

Why isn't their stuff art? It was created with intention, it's designed to evoke a certain feeling. I've seen a vast amount of creative and physical energy go into the design of film sets even with the knowledge that most of it would never show up on camera. Notwithstanding the commercial context, I find something thought-provoking about wandering through an Ikea showroom and sharing rooms that are like corners of some anonymous designer's life with complete strangers (plus you get to touch the exhibits, which is frowned upon in most art galleries). Yet none of this is considered to have particular art value. And frankly, if Pharmacy didn't have Hirst's name on it, nobody would give much of a toss about it. It's not devoid of value, but I really don't think anyone has walked into it for the first time and been deeply by either the mood it evokes or the skill it took to put it together...or ever will.

Here's a challenge: if Hirst is so hot, why not pull a Duchamp and enter something for exhibition under a different name?
posted by anigbrowl at 10:16 PM on September 4, 2009


...deeply moved...
posted by anigbrowl at 10:22 PM on September 4, 2009


Checking out Cartrain's work and as a collage artist... I'm wondering if perhaps I should claim that my work is "guerilla" because it seems like a brilliant marketing strategy for stuff that is really banal.

Not that what I was making at 16 was awesome either, I'm just sayin', his stuff is very surface-level OK WE GET IT, YOU HAVE DEEP THOUGHTS.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:11 AM on September 6, 2009


The diamond skull is brilliant, the fact that he could gte someone to fund it. But its also a sad testament to the zeitgeist.
posted by supyo at 4:00 PM on September 6, 2009


Art is like a well-known name-brand college; many of them have are well-known because they're a good school; they're a good school because they're well-regarded by others and thus many smart people go there. It's a cycle.

I find it funny when people say things like "it's lacking skill" or "it's not good art", without realizing the terms on which your sentences stand are shaky in of themselves. Skill and Art are these shaky things that slip and slide. "What Skill Is" is this question that has changed, most recently/notably in 1967 with Sol LeWitt's 'On Conceptual Art', etc. etc. Have you people not thought about the fact that, instead of 'good works of art' getting in to the museum, that it's possible that you've changed to think that certain works of art are good because it's in the museum?
posted by suedehead at 1:22 AM on September 7, 2009


Hirst himself has been attacked for alleged plagiarism.
posted by jonesor at 7:42 AM on September 7, 2009


« Older Conceptual bikes   |   PC World gone Mad Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments