Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

Value for money

Away from the Flock

Away from the Flock – Damien Hirst

Can you imagine anyone in your street coming up to you and boasting they had just employed the most expensive plumber in the world to repair their leaky toilet? Or bragging their garden wall had cost a thousand times as much to build as their neighbour’s? Even though it was more or less the same width and height.

Yet this kind of hype is used by rich movie makers to con money out of filmgoers all the time. Hollywood film producers constantly boast of how much big stars get paid. And how much production costs were. What with all those mega expensive special effects. Never mind if the plot is crap, feel the width.

Wow! that movie must be really, super good if Angelina Jolie  got paid a zillion dollars to get into bed with Brad Pitt. Great! And then he gets a zillion for getting into bed with her. In 3D too! Must be fantastic! Even better, these extra, super-dooper, special effects cost ten zillion dollars! It’s a must! The most expensive movie ever made since the last most expensive movie ever made! I’m wetting my pants just thinking about it! Even if they do get into bed together all the time when they’re at home for free. And there’s more guns and violence than in two world wars put together. In the opening five minutes, more blood and guts get spilled than on a turkey farm in the run-up to Christmas. I’ll queue up for hours in the pouring rain and pay lots to see that sort of crap on the big screen in technicolor. And then even more to download it with all the stuff that got thrown on the cutting room floor because it was even crapper. And then I’ll still pay more again to watch it on TV. I like crap so much, how much would it cost me for the privilege of sucking up the entire contents of the Jolie/Pitt septic tank through a straw?

It’s as though paying huge fees is a sign of art or quality. So bad has it got that many film reviews read like accountants sheets. Tracking a bit sideways, I wonder if they call their septic tank the Jolly Pit? It’d make sense.

Believe me, I have nothing against Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, both act just as well as many others, even better than some. At the same time, they ain’t nearly so good as many more. And certainly nowhere near as good as their astronomical fees would suggest. But is any actor, footballer, banker, impresario or Mick Jagger really that good? No, in the same way as plumbers, farmers and factory workers never can be good enough to earn the sort of money these overpaid narcissists do, neither can they.

Let’s face it, Hollywood film stars and producers would never dream of applying the same criterion to their Latin American domestics. They would never employ them on the basis of how high their salaries were. Quite the contrary, they employ them on how low their salaries are. Big paydays are never the measure they use then. Slave wages, servilty, and an unlimited capacity for self-debasement are the yardsticks when it comes to toffs employing plebs to clean up their shit.

And another thing while I’m ranting on about it. Despite all the evidence showing what a mess flippin’ bankers have made of the global economy –  I emphasise the word global because even someone cleaning a toilet extremely badly can only spread shit so far – this arrogant elite still seem to think they deserve, not only salaries more than the size of a small nation’s GDP, but the size of bigger ones in bonuses.

God, would I love a  job as a toilet cleaner who got paid huge bonuses for throwing as much shit around the mansion of a banker as I could. I’d even pay my friends to bring  bucketloads of their shit to throw round as well. And friends of my friends. And friends of their friends. We’d all do it for free. Well, I’d still want the huge bonus.

I mean, do international bankers pay the night watchman millions of pounds in bonuses if nobody robs the bank overnight? Seems not, even though it does leave the international scuzzballs lots more to rob the next day. It’s the same with almost everything the rich do. If you are at the top you are judged by the obscenely high bonuses you receive, if you clean toilets you are judged by how cheap you are.

And that brings me onto yet more con-artists. Thinking about buckets of shit reminds me of a Damien Hirst exhibition I once saw in London’s Serpentine Gallery.

Minding my own business, meandering through Hyde Park in a drug-induced daze in May 1994, as you do, I stumbled through a pair of gallery doors not knowing what to expect.

In my hypnotic state I felt some empathy with the artwork Away from the Flock, comprising a dead sheep in a tank of formaldehyde. Maybe it had something to do with the title.

Short of money, and with a couple of months rent due, I can’t help admitting I felt slightly envious of the small creature in its moment of anonymous stardom. Even though it was dead. Perhaps, because it was dead. At the same time, there was something a bit humiliating about being exhibited in that way. If it’d been me, I’d have chosen a fancy, mahogany coffin, lined in purple velvet, with gold handles. But then it was an unsuspecting  sheep. At least, he had strayed far enough away from the flock for the others not to see.

Then, my financially precarious state of mind had me harbouring the faint suspicion the poor sheep might have preferred to have ended up in my fridge as four legs of lamb, a couple of kidneys, a pound of liver, and a bag of chops. If I was a dead sheep that’s the sort of place I would have willed to be. Damien Hirst’s type of art is certainly not intended for the poor and hungry.

Coincidentally enough, a few hours later that same afternoon, Mark Bridger, an artist from Oxford, meandered into the gallery on a mission. Pouring a bottle of black ink into the tank, he retitled the work Black Sheep. Wish I’d stayed long enough to witness that. Bridger was later prosecuted and given two years probation for his trouble. Yet I couldn’t help thinking he should have been lauded for what amounted to an act of conceptual art in itself.

But it got more interesting when Hirst published a photo of Away from the Flock in a book with a pull-over piece of card mimicking black ink being poured into the tank. Ironically, in another stunt that qualifies as an even more brilliant piece of conceptual art, Bridger sued Hirst for breach of copyright. If only the Dadaists had been alive to see it.

I don’t know the result of the legal action, but the whole affair questions whether Hirst has any real understanding of conceptual art at all, let alone a sense of humour.

In my eyes, he should never have allowed the prosecution to go ahead. Apart from anything else, it was a tremendous piece of free publicity, which earned him another barrowload of dosh he doesn’t need nearly as much as I do.

Interestingly enough for those who think lamb is getting too expensive at the butchers, a version of Damien Hirst’s Away from the Flock (divided) sold for $3,042,371 at Christie’s in London in February. Imagine how much just one small chop would cost. Apparently, athough he will saw a whole sheep in half,  Damien doesn’t do chops, as they’re not worth his while.

Well, I’m no longer at all sure where I was going with this, so I think I’ll call it a day.

Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming

Britain’s Independent published an article on Damien Hirst yesterday: Colour of money: Damien Hirst catalogue divides dealers.

The price of Hirst’s work has begun to plummet and pieces are now fetching only 70% of what they used to according another article in The Independent  Prices plummeting, lustre fading – has Damien Hirst jumped the pickled shark?

Julian Spalding predicted the “con art” bubble was set to collapse in his book Con Art – Why You Ought to Sell Your Damien Hirsts While You Can.



5 comments on “Value for money

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    April 7, 2013

    Well said bringing it down to earth with the ‘someone coming up to you from your street and…’ – well said, Bryan….sucking up septic tank through straw : ugh

    Wow, you’re shit-slingin’ raging here …

    When you explained Away From The Flock – omg, I had no idea it existed. FOUL. I would never have envied its fame though! (well, maybe on drugs & with the rent due).

    Black Sheep – hilarious!! That would have mortified Hirst!!! But you can’t help but appreciate it, I mean the very act BEING such a black-artist-sheep. Bridger later sued Hirst – fantastic. Bryan, this is a great piece, love it. LOVE it 🙂

    And just got to your last line. Love your close. You’re so good at this shit, Bryan.


    • Bryan Hemming
      April 7, 2013

      It’s the second time in six months I’ve had a go at Damien Hirst. Yet, however much he deserves it, I am still sickened by the way the same art critics responsible for his rise to fame, now turn on him. Hypocritics.

      It’s quite obvious to anyone who knows anything about art, he’s been a charlatan and snake oil salesman of the worst sort all along. Neither he, nor his art, metamorphosed over the last few months.

      Now all the lickspittle journalists are jumping on the gravy train of slamming him because it’s the new fashion, and they need their thirty pieces of silver.

      Not only has Hirst sucked finance from more deserving artists, but he has damaged the reputation of art immeasurably with his degenerate rubbish.

      But I do get a lot of fun out of my rage, as it makes me smile.


      • WordsFallFromMyEyes
        April 7, 2013

        Wow, Bryan, I didn’t see this full picture. Imagine real artists out there losing finance in Hirst’s favour – grrrr indeed. But what you say of the hypocrisy – YUP.


  2. Ritika Upadhyay
    April 6, 2013

    Then I’m not alone in wondering why actors are paid obscenely or deified if they ultimately serve the audience.


    • Bryan Hemming
      April 7, 2013

      I get the impression the idea is to isolate them from the people so they identify with their masters. Once they get used to all that money, most of them become much easier to manipulate. They start to appear in films they may not agree with simply because they fear they won’t be offered any more roles if they don’t.

      Roseanne Barr – from the TV series Roseanne – has some interesting theories on this, though she can sound a bit bizzare at times, she talks a lot of sense. Here she is in an interview on RT:


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This entry was posted on April 5, 2013 by in Art, Articles, Humour and tagged , .

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