A Christie’s Aboriginal Art Specialist inspects a painting by Emily Kame Kngwarreye tilted Spirit Dreaming. William West/AFP/Getty Images.
Daniel Grant, Damien Hirst Denies Ripping Off Female Aboriginal Artists—Was ‘Unaware’ of Their Work, Observer, 29 March 2018
Damien Hirst’s Veil of Love’s Secrets, currently on view at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. Gagosian GalleryLots of art looks (and sounds and reads) like other art, which is why fine artists and musicians and authors periodically lob accusations of “stealing” at one another. Sometimes, the connections between one person’s work and another’s are too close. Sam Smith’s 2014 song “Stay With Me” was deemed so close to Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne’s 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down” that he agreed to share songwriting royalties with the two older musicians. (“A complete coincidence,” Smith’s spokespeople said at the time.)
Damien Hirst isn’t likely to be sharing his sales proceeds with any other artists any time soon, but claims have been made that his most recent artworks—a series of pictures known as the “Veil Paintings” (currently on view through April 14 at Gagosian Gallery’s Beverly Hills location)—are strikingly similar to those of a group of Australian aboriginal artists. “When I saw the ‘Veil Paintings, the first thing I thought was that they looked incredibly like the work of Kathy Maringka,” said Emerald Gruin, director of Olsen Gruin Gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, referring to the work of a 63 year-old south Australian abstract painter whose works they exhibited last summer.
Information about the artist on the gallery’s Web site noted that Maringka’s “use of strong color and abstract imagery creates a contemporary interpretation of the vast, energetic, and vibrant landscape.” About his own “Veil Paintings,” Hirst claimed his source material was the School of Paris, rather than contemporary Australian artwork, posting on January 31st on Instagram “I’ve always loved Bonnard and his colour, i went to see a show at the Pompidou in Paris of de Kooning and Bonnard when I was a student and both artists blew me away. These paintings I’ve made, which i’m calling the Veil paintings….They’re like big abstract Bonnard paintings, I’ve been playing with the scale and the big ones feel perfect. how can you not love colour? Sunlight on flowers, fuck everything else.”
Elders from Utopia in Australia’s central desert, one of the first communities to receive notoriety for its artistic output, told ABC News Australia that the similarities were apparent to them, too. Painter Barbara Weir drew strong comparisons to Polly Ngale and Emily Kngwarreye, one of Australia’s most well-known indigenous painters, whose work has sold for as much as $1.6 million—the current record for a female Australian artist.
Gruin noted that she had already been preparing a “response” exhibition to Hirst’s “Veil Paintings,” which will take place from May 16 through June 17 and include the work of Maringka, Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi and Polly Ngale, each of whom works in an abstract painterly style and whose works look similar to that of the 52 year-old British Hirst. It will be curated by Adam Knight, the president of the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia. “I do think there is an unmistakable similarity between Maringka and Hirst’s work” said Gruin. It’s also notable that all the artists—whom Hirst claims no knowledge of—are women.