Who owns it?

In April this year an exhibition titled Stealing Banksy was held in London, it showcased the artist’s work, which had been removed from the walls where it had been created. Banksy condemned the exhibition on his website, but not without a little humour writing: “I think it’s disgusting people are allowed to go around displaying art on walls without permission.”


When it comes to ownership of art, the law states that the artist owns the intangible rights of copyright and intellectual property but the tangible art belongs to whoever owns the canvas or backdrop. In a similiar series of events this week, the BBC reported on the refusal of an early Damien Hirst painting which was painted directly onto the wallpaper of a house to be sold.

The 1988 spot painting was created for the then homeowner, Jamie Ritblat, as a birthday present. When the house was later sold, the painting remained. New owner Jess Simpson, removed it and framed it. She now wants to sell it. But Hirst’s company Science Ltd has said she cannot sell as they are the rightful owners.

The painting is valuable only if it is sold with an accompanying certificate of authentication issued by Hirst’s company which is now in their possession and when Mr Ritblat moved he was given an alternative version of the painting on canvas. Hirst states that when the artwork moves mediums then the original is essentially rendered worthless and should have been destroyed.

The painting in question titled ‘Bombay Mix’ was made using a set of instructions, it’s possible Hirst didn’t even paint it. When he created these paintings he wanted them to be void of any physical evidence of human intervention so that the works appeared to be constructed mechanically. The artwork is essentially the concept but how do you put a price on an idea?


And what happens when the artist has died, yet their work is still being made? American artist Sol Lewitt died in 2007 but his artwork is still being made. The wall drawings, executed on-site, generally exist for the duration of an exhibition; they are then destroyed, giving the work in its physical form an ephemeral quality. I read an interesting comment on the student site recently which said; ‘I think art is the process rather than the object that results from that process, in fact it is more than possible for there to be no object at all.’

So by removing a Banksy is the integrity of the work lost and it’s intrinsic value diminished? If Damien Hirst says his painting is worthless without the certificate, is it really? If the process is the art how can multi- million pound price tags be justified and just exactly who owns it?


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3 comments for “Who owns it?

  1. 17 July 2014 at 11:47 am

    I heard the home owner talking with bemusement on Radio 4, about why she cannot sell the work she cut from her wallpaper and wants to sell. It might have been a good idea to check the value before she did this. The house itself might be of greater value simply because of the Hirst on the wall? The whole situation takes the notion of provenance in a rather disturbing direction….

  2. 18 July 2014 at 7:30 am

    Hirst clearly states the work must be painted out before being re-made elsewhere. I guess he means what he says. It makes me think about a related issue. What happens if you rescue a painting rejected by an artist -for example, from a skip? The artist clearly did not value the work, but what if you like it and want it? I am sure this happens a lot in Art Colleges at the end of the year. I once got a drawing that I thought was very good. I notice the artist is now doing rather well. I wouldn’t dream of trying to sell it, though. I wouldn’t want to upset the artist or admit to my ‘theft’. It does look rather good in my bathroom and I am sure the artist will never visit.

  3. marylow
    24 July 2014 at 7:40 pm

    It all comes down to some bits of pigment on a wall. The added value may have absolutely nothing to do with art, culture, or aesthetics.

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