Damien Hirst: Another Basement Conversion In Hampstead And Other Tales

Damien Hirst

I‘ve spent many a year working in Knightsbridge and Belgravia, and the tell-tale signs of a cellar dig out – blocked off scaffolding with conveyor belts emerging into a skip – pop up like mushrooms in the area. The relative smallness of these works give no hint to just how massive the below caverns are becoming: several cases eclipse the actual size of the house, and there was one amusing instance where the skip parked outside collapsed through the ground. (The building company’s logos swiftly disappeared from the scaffolding on that one..) So when one views Damien Hirst’s plans to vamp up his underground lair with a swimming pool, planning permission documents don’t really communicate just how damned big this thing is going to be. 

The main sticking point with these reports however is exactly where this pool is going to go. Original plans state the bunker will contain his art collection, “on the same level” as the pool. One would hope someone with enough business sense to make a living out of nothing would be smart enough to condition his collection properly. Something tells me Hirst probably places greater priority on the shipping, storage and insurance of his works than the actual emotional value he attaches to them. Either that, or he really is evil and built the amazing Newport Street Gallery, a brilliant show of excellent museum-work, as a distraction from his real intention of filling the pool with Cristal champagne and using his Bacon and Chuck Close paintings as lilos while carelessly lighting his cigars with lit dollar bills.

It is true: his art belongs to him, and there is no obligation – other than monetary value – to look after them properly. We’re hoping Hirst will rotate his collection through the Newport Gallery and we actually get to see it. He is not really the main offender in a much wider problem; that of wealthy owners of art withholding it from public viewing or even knowledge. Several clients I knew in Belgravia did not declare their (staggering) art collections when insuring them, just so nobody has any clue they are there. There is probably a significant amount of privately owned works that have just disappeared off the map – not to mention those shipped by private jet undetected to different countries. This is a playground of the super-rich in which art is monetarily as opposed to culturally valued. This especially grates with me because of the selfishness of doing so: I can have this art so no one else can, simply because I have more money than anyone else. Why does that make them deserving of denying everyone else the pleasure?

Several owners only declare their ownership – and reluctantly let the public see it – because a government scheme gives them tax breaks if they do so. I was shocked however by this article Read Here exposing how many abuse the system. It is a crime against art history and those doing worthy research, not to mention the public in general.


Image: Jeremy Deller  Photo P C Robinson © Artlyst 2016