News broke today that Rolf Harris, a much loved and admired figure, was arrested following Operation Yewtree. The operation launched by Scotland Yard questioned the 83 year old on allegations of sexual abuse, Harris denies the allegations, and the abuse is not thought to be linked to the Jimmy Saville scandal. Shockingly the investigation seems to have been going on since September last year when Harris was first questioned by police, since then there has been a press blackout with newspapers unable to publish the story for legal reasons. With these developments surfacing, what impact will this have on the Rolf Harris brand, particularly his art work? Should Whitewall Gallery who currently stock works by Harris and collectors who have already purchased his works, worry about the affect these could have on the price and saleability of these works, or could it even have the opposite affect?
Rolf Harris, his music, books, art and overall brand has made him one of Britons best loved and celebrated entertainers. His long career has spanned almost half century, including a long stint at the ‘BBC’ appearing on Animal Hospital. His art has been exceptionally popular since the start of his career, perhaps his most famous catch: “Can you guess what it is yet?”, was used whilst drawing his famed works. Today his work sells for a high sum and Whitewall Gallery a leading gallery with branches all over the country, sells original works and prints by the artist. Walking past the gallery this morning I couldn’t help but notice Harris’s works had been moved into the front window, I can’t help but feel this was a deliberate move by the gallery. This scandal may be a blessing in disguise for the gallery and investors, should he turn out to be cleared of all charges, the press intention will have only pushed Harris further into spotlight, advertised his brand further and vindicated a very much loved figure. Such publicity could see an increase in sales and perhaps even push prices up. This good publicity would of course be welcomed, but what about the other side of the coin? The alternative of course is that Harris’s long career could ultimately be tainted by the story, should the scandal develop further the likelihood is that he will become notorious and unpopular, leading to a fall in both sales and a decrease in the price of his works.
Above: ‘Ghost City in the gums’ by Rolf Harris, released 2004.
Considering the nature of his arrest and the public’s attitude regarding such allegations following the Saville scandal, what is the correct course of action in such an event? Although nothing has been set in decided in court, a formal arrest has been made and potentially his name has already been tainted, especially since the story was covered up for such a protracted period of time. I was speaking to a lady on the subject just this morning who came in the gallery, she was shocked by the news and admitted that it was making her think twice about the way she perceived the artist. The same lady also lamented over the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong, a once life long fan, she recently binned all his books and any other related material on the biker. It just goes to show the damage that can be done through losing trust in someone you once held to such a high standard. Should we follow the same example she did with Armstrong? It’s almost certainly to early to say, but ethically and morally it will probably seen to be the appropriate course of action. With this idea in mind though, shouldn’t we also be throwing away other artists with similar backgrounds? It has become popular knowledge now that Michelangelo enjoyed the company of young boys and many of Picasso’s muses were very young girls.
The art market is an ever fluctuating place and the effect this scandal will have on the collectability of Harris’s work is yet to be seen. What ever the outcome, it is likely a question-mark will always now be hanging over the entertainers head. His work will most likely remain on the walls of collectors and galleries for the time being. We must though be careful of the precedent set in the wake of this, if the value and perceived ability of Harris’s ability to produce excellent pieces of art is affected by his personal life, should we not also re-asses the quality of collectibility of more historic artists with even darker backgrounds?