Damien Hirst Blocks Sale of Early Spot Painting

The certificate for Damien Hirst's <em>Bombay Mix</em>. Photo: via the <em>Telegraph</em>.

The certificate for Damien Hirst’s Bombay Mix. Photo: via the Telegraph.

An early Damien Hirst painting titled Bombay Mix has become the source of controversy London, reports the BBC. The artist is blocking the sale of the piece, claiming that his company, Science Ltd, still holds the certificate for the spot painting, which was painted directly on the wallpaper of a London house in 1988, and is therefore the piece’s owner.

Originally a birthday gift for the owner of the house, Jamie Ritblat, from his parents, the painting stayed behind when the home was later sold. In a statement, Science Ltd claimed that Riblat gave back the certificate authenticating the work “a number of years ago.”

Meanwhile, Jess Simpson, who has owned the home with her husband Roger since 2005, has removed Bombay Mix, mounted it on an aluminum backing board, and framed it in the hopes of selling it. In doing so, she has run into firm opposition from the artist and his team.

“We’re not really into Damien Hirst so we didn’t really think it’s a fantastic piece of art that we can keep; we thought ‘what are we going to do with it?’” she told the Telegraph.

“Science first said you must return it for destruction. Then… they said we can display it but we can’t sell it as a Damien Hirst or profit from it,” said Simpson in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program. She’s approached auction house such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but as “you can imagine, they don’t want to upset Hirst, Science, or any of their collectors.”

According to Science Ltd, “the painting should have been painted over when the previous owner traded the wall spot for a work on canvas.” BBC arts editor Will Gompertz also criticized Simpson, telling Today “this was painted in 1989, six months after he had his famous Freeze show, his spot paintings were there—if I were Jess I’d have left it on the wall as a piece of art history. Its real value, culturally as well as financial, was in that spot.”

2014-july-14-damien-hirst-spots

Damien Hirst.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Simpson, who believes that she rescued the deteriorating work by taking it down, is understandably confused by the difficulties she’s encountered in her seemingly straightforward quest to sell an unquestionably authentic Hirst artwork. “It’s quite extraordinary how aggressive Science are being about it,” she said. “We don’t really know much about the contemporary art world, but it seems a ludicrous way of doing business, really.”

Science Ltd claims that “the ownership of a wall painting in the series titled Wall Spots always resides with the owner of the Wall Spots signed certificate, which accompanies the art work,” and that this is “common practice” in the art world for site-specific artworks. By that standard, they argue, the company is “the legal owner of the wall spot titled Bombay Mix.”

Riblet has also weighed in via email, telling Simpson that all she owns is a “valueless bunch of multi-colored spots.”

While the dispute is ongoing, the work is being stored at London’s Lamberty Antiques, where owner Andrew Lamberty is forced to keep mum about the Hirst piece in his storeroom. “I am essentially not allowed to say that I have a picture by the artist that is actually by the artist,” the frustrated dealer told the Telegraph.

As for the old adage “possession is nine tenths of the laws,” Science Ltd isn’t buying it: “The certificate certifies ownership. Someone being in possession of the painted wall surface without the certificate does not have any entitlement to the work.”

UPDATE: artnet News received the following email from Andrew Lamberty commenting on the current dispute over Hirst’s Bombay Mix:

[W]hile Mr. Gompertz is entitled to his opinions, I do not believe that a very early seminal spot work by Damien Hirst should languish on the wall of the back room of an anonymous Fulham House. Many people perhaps agree with him that Duchamp’s urinal should have remained in situ. I prefer to take the view that this picture should go into an important collection commensurate with its importance in art history.

These are our further salient views on this topic

1- Jessica Simpson still wants us to sell  the work. She has every faith that Lamberty has the determination and professional experience to achieve this.

2- She and I can not believe that it is in the interests of the history of art to destroy an important early work by an important British artist. Is Science really in the business of destroying Holbeins?

3- The issue of authentication committees and estates manipulating artist’s estates, often refusing to recognize legitimate works, needs to be addressed. [Pest Control denying street works, which is a copyists paradise, The Bacon Estate refusing to address the Ravarino drawings despite mounting evidence]. A government body should be set up.