British contemporary art is sometimes mistaken for garbage—literally. In 2001, a Damien Hirst work valued in the mid six figures was, well, cleaned up by a janitor at London’s
. Of course, Hirst’s assemblage consisted of such objects as half-filled coffee cups, cigarette butts, newspaper pages and candy wrappers scattered on the gallery floor. “It didn’t look much like art to me," Emanuel Asare, the gallery’s cleaning man, told the London press. “So I cleared it all in bin bags, and I dumped it."
The “bin bags" containing Hirst’s work were ultimately rescued and the piece reassembled the following day (with the addition of a “Keep Off" sign). Hirst found the whole incident funny, and Asare kept his job.
Those responsible for accidentally trashing an Anish Kapoor sculpture a few years back weren’t so lucky. The Turner Prize-winning artist’s
Hole and Vessel II
(1984), pictured above, made it to the dump and was destroyed. Fine Art Logistics, the company that was storing the piece for art collector Ofir Scheps, offered to pay a paltry £587.13 (about $1,100) for losing the work Scheps purchased in 2004 for £20,000 ($39,200). A legal battle ensued. Last week, the high court ordered the storage company to pay the collector £351,375 ($678,000). Experts for the defense valued the work at £250,000 ($490,000).
But the judge on the case wasn’t so decisive in his description of the Kapoor sculpture itself: “It is not possible for me to describe it," Justice Teare said when announcing the decision. “One expert described it as sensuous and sexy, the other as clumsy and somewhat absurd."