Art Vandals Background

Painting Modernism Black, 1996, by Felix Gmelin
After Damien Hirst (1994) and Mark Bridger (1994) Iron, glass, water and ink in wooden frame, 175 x 164 x 65 cm


A magistrate at Bow Street in central London was subjected to observations on the meaning of life, mortality and awareness yesterday, before he granted a penniless artist a two year conditional discharge for pouring black ink into a tank containing a dead sheep. The crime was committed on May 9, when Mark Bridger, aged 35, a down-at-heel artist from Oxford, walked into London's Serpentine Gallery and tampered with an installation by the cult sculptor, Damien Hirst. He turned the piece, a fluffy white lamb floating in a tank of formaldehyde, titled Away from the Flock, into a new work called Black Sheep. It cost #1,000 to remove the pigment. But the lamb still fetched 25 times that amount from a private collector.
'Why are you an artist?' Chuck Nduka-Eze, prosecuting, asked Mr Hirst. 'I don't know. I've always been an artist,' he replied.
Mr Hirst, aged 29, who now lives in Berlin 'to avoid publicity', described himself in court as a conventional artist. He must have had in mind the age-old conventions of sawing pigs in half, pickling 14-foot sharks and cultivating maggots on decomposing cows' heads.
Mr Bridger said that as soon as he set eyes on the sheep he was inspired to seize the day. 'I was in a carpe diem frame of mind; tomorrow may not be available,' he explained. He assumed Mr Hirst would not object as they were on the same creative wavelength. 'To live is to do things, I was providing an interesting addendum to his work. In terms of conceptual art, the sheep had already made its statement. Art is there for creation of awareness and I added to whatever it was meant to say.' Mr Bridger denied that his act was motivated by jealousy of Mr Hirst's success. Rather, he was inspired by the sheep's mortality. 'It's about life and death; we are entering the territory of what life is all about.'
After more than two hours of such talk, the magistrate, Jeremy Connor, took two minutes to find Mr Bridger guilty of criminal damage, excusing him from paying compensation on grounds of insuYcient means.

From The Guardian, August 19, 1994