Artist Damien Hirst accused of copying Norwood sculpture

A group of community activists have accused the artist, Damien Hirst, of copying one of their works and say that they are considering legal action against the multi-millionaire shark embalmer over a piece in his “comeback” exhibition unveiled this week in Venice.

Sharon, the original, in place in the Sensible Garden in South Norwood

The South Norwood Tourist Board this weekend alleged that Hirst – described by The New York Times as “art’s king of controversy” – had committed “blatant plagiarism” with one of the pieces on display in the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana as part of the world-famous Biennale art festival which opens today. It is Hirst’s first major exhibit for three years.

But Ian Bone, one of the South Norwood collective, claimed that one of the pieces has marked similarities to a piece of public art which was erected in the Sensible Garden, a reclaimed piece of wasteland turned into a public open space.

Bone “took to Twitter”, as the mainstream media might say, to post: “Damien Hirst rips off our Sharon – SNTB alleges blatant plagiarism by Hirst in new Venice show”.

Sharon was the piece of female statuary, made almost entirely of left-over kitchen foil, which was erected in the Sensible Garden on South Norwood High Street until damaged by vandals.

The SNTB have in the past staged a series of events to draw attention to South Norwood, including re-naming a lake in a local park after Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, a past resident in the area, and staging “Picklesfest” last year, marking the 50th anniversary of a south London dog recovering the lost, presumed stolen, Jules Rimet Trophy just in time for Bobby Moore to lift the World Cup in the 1966 final. The Sensible Garden was created with the help of other community groups and opened by the eponymous Captain Sensible, just across from the punk rocker’s old school.

“Sharon”, or what some allege is a version of it, by Damien Hirst in Venice this week

Members of SNTB are now suggesting that the attempted destruction of Sharon may even have been linked to the Hirst exhibit, perhaps to give his piece added value when it is pawned out to one of the fashionable contemporary galleries. There is no evidence to confirm such suspicions.

“Bloody cheek that Hirst, pilfering the image of our lovely Sharon, South Norwood’s working class icon,” one member of SNTB told Inside Croydon this morning.

“He can take his  50million quid diamond skull and shove it up his gentrified arse.”

The SNTB is threatening to reassemble their original Sharon and exhibit it in the forecourt of the trendy White Cube gallery in Bermondsey later this month.

Hirst’s reputation was built during the so-called “Cool Britannia” period by places such as the Saatchi Gallery, which displayed works which included a dairy cow, sliced in half, and preserved in a vat of formaldehyde.

Hirst’s most expensive piece to sell at auction was Black Sheep Golden Horn, which fetched more than £2million in 2008. By 2009, Hirst had accumulated wealth amounting to £235million, according to The Sunday Times Rich List, making him the world’s richest artist.

Hirst’s current exhibit is being held in two museums run by François Pinault, the Parisian collector who is also the owner of Christie’s auction house, and so presumably has a real “eye” for a money-making piece of work.

According to The Observer last month, Hirst’s exhibition, entitled Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable “is the first new exhibition of works by Damien Hirst since 2014’s indifferently received Schizophrenogenesis – and the stakes couldn’t be higher for British art’s jester king”.

Recent Hirst exhibitions have been panned – Schizophrenogenesis was condemned for coasting on past glory, while 2012’s painting-focused Two Weeks, One Summer received scathing one-star reviews. “There is a nagging sense that these days his art can resemble a factory production line, with endless copies of his popular “spot” paintings churned out in the name of brand recognition,” the newspaper suggested.

Damien Hirst had a message for the South Norwood Tourist Board

Hirst does already have a tenuous connection with Croydon. The trite piece of neon “street art” erected in Surrey Street by the council just before they closed down the 700-year-old street market (if only temporarily) – is supposed to be by an artist who too has had work exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery.

That distant association with celebrity may have been used to justify the ridiculous £10,000 price tag for the unwanted and unloved bit of pretentiousness.

Hirst was not immediately available for comment when we attempted to contact him in Italy this morning, although the artist did offer a message to SNTB in the form of a selfie.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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