Tom Sutcliffe: What the ornament business owes to Hirst

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The Independent Online

An interesting catalogue comes through the door – or rather a dull catalogue – for a middle-market furniture company called Dwell – with one interesting item in it. It's what you would call a conversation piece, I suppose – one of those bits of drawing-room bling which have no purpose but to be admired (or not) by your guests. And this dust-gatherer has cultural pedigree.

Described as a "Diamante encrusted skull", it's clearly been inspired by Damien Hirst's For the Love of God – a platinum skull set with 8,601 diamonds. It will, the company suggests, "make a stunning table centrepiece for those looking for something out of the norm". And the good news – in these straitened times – is that the price falls some way short of the original. Hirst's skull would have set you back £50m at the time when it first went on show. Dwell's polyresin version, studded with acrylic diamantes, will cost you just £169.

Which does raise the question of whether it is Dwell's skull at all. One assumes that this isn't a licenced product – since no reference is made to the original in the sales copy. And since you can't copyright an idea, it's possible that it doesn't have to be licenced anyway.

On the other hand Damien Hirst hasn't exactly been encouraging in the past towards those who treat his work as part of the common currency of culture – freely available for mash-ups and allusive games. He threatened to sue Go Airways for an advertising campaign that he took to be a reference to his spot paintings, and also demanded recompense from a teenage artist who had used images of the skull in collaged prints (apparently on the grounds that he'd infringed Hirst's copyright on the title, which can be protected). So it seems unlikely that he'll be happy about one of his more controversial works ending up as a pricey knick-knack.

There's a further irony too, of course, because Hirst himself has had the odd spot of bother in the past with complaints of imitation – one of which centred on For the Love of God itself, said by John LeKay, an old acquaintance of Hirst's, to bear a striking conceptual similarity to works he'd produced in the mid-1990s, with rather more affordable materials. So any defence of his own entitlements in this matter would be likely to raise the entitlements of others.

What's really intriguing about this cheeky knock-off, though, is what it suggests about Hirst's art. Because in making For the Love of God he himself was surely in the ornament business too – albeit at a rather more rarefied level. Even if an institution had purchased this work it would have been doing so to secure a trophy trinket – a must-see, must-talk-about object that would get the party going, even for those visitors who knew nothing about art at all.

And he had to construct it out of astoundingly precious materials because in any other form it's banality would be obvious. Perhaps he'll look at the Dwell catalogue and console himself with the thought that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But he should also reflect on the fact that some forms of flattery are the most cutting kind of criticism.

More surrealism from Street View

Google has been on the back foot for the last few days, after admitting that its Street View mapping cars had "inadvertently" collected email addresses and computer passwords from unencrypted wireless connections (frankly if you're too lazy to encrypt your wireless connection I'm not sure how much privacy you're entitled to, but set that aside for the moment).

Bad news for them from Italy, too – where privacy regulators have just ruled that Google must publicise the routes and itinerary of its mapping cars three days in advance, presumably to protect Italians from those embarrassing Street View moments in which your car ends up being snapped outside your mistress's apartment. The good news for everyone, though, is that it should also deliver a rich dividend in Street View surrealism.

Up till now those who take delight in embarrassing Street View cameras have had to be quick on the draw with their pants – or have inside knowledge about the driver's route – as was the case with the Norwegian frogmen who can be seen in enraged pursuit of a Street View car at Rugdeveien 39 in Bergen, Norway. But just imagine what Italian jokers will be able to contrive with three full days in which to plan their ambushes. One can only hope that things get fiercely competitive.

What Kiwis want from Hollywood

"New Zealanders rally behind Hobbit shoot" read a headline yesterday. Surely there are other things to hunt there, I thought – though I couldn't entirely suppress the feeling that a Hobbit cull might be a good way to protect ourselves from being overrun by the winsome, hairy-footed little creatures when Peter Jackson's film eventually emerges. My prejudiced brain had reached for the wrong shoot, of course. While Frenchmen take to the streets for their pension entitlements the people of New Zealand were marching for the right of their landscape to play its part in the continuing infantilisation of Hollywood cinema. I do wish they'd had shotguns in mind.