In an interesting debate in the dutch artworld. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is displaying the most discussed and controversial work by YBA foreman Damien Hirst; for the Love of God. Not since, with the help of mr. Saatchi, he rose to stardom by displaying a dead shark and giving this work a clever title (the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living) did he manage to back his position of ‘rock’n roll artist’ up with a work that gained any interest outside of the art-world at all. With his ‘skull-work’ he did. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with he quality of the work, but with creating ‘spin’ around it, that was so good, it could have made Sarah Palin the new president of the US. The work is incredibly expensive (it is estimated that it was sold for around 50 million GBP, paid in cash, so what does that tell us? ) and rumour was spread that underneath all those diamonds was an actual human skull (creepy). In fact, the skull is a cast, made of platinum. Meanwhile, all mr. Hirst actually had to do in creating the work was cough up 15 million pounds of his own money and say “wouldn’t it be cool to make something like that?”. I truly believe that that’s a respectable way for any artist to work, as long if your ideas are strong enough. But let’s face it, Damien Hirst is hardly as brilliant an artist as someone like Maurizio Cattelan.
So, what’s the debate at the Rijksmuseum about? Well, obviously it’s about the question; does this work by mr. Hirst deserve a place at this reputable museum (and share space with Rembrandt’s the Night Watch for example) or is it just a PR trick by the new director who wishes to attract some media-attention for his museum and draw in the crowds? Selling out true art(ists) to an overrated attention seeker whose maecenas happens to be one of the world’s most talented advertising minds. The Rijksmuseum in direct competition with Eurodisney. Columnist suspect it’s a PR move. The museum, obviously, claims otherwise. Because it is not good PR for a new director to start defending himself to the press, that honour goes to the previous director of the museum, mr. Rudi Fuchs. Mr. Fuchs, who is also rather close to mr. Hirst, wrote a letter to the papers in which he made a case for ‘For the Love of God’.
Beyond the ‘old modern art’
As happens more often than not (even though I must admit, I am usually very much impressed by mr. Fuch’s reasoning when it comes to the matters of the arts) Rudi Fuchs takes matters too far in trying to silence the critics. Where his claim should have been: ‘Unlike what you’d think. Yes, this skull is indeed a valuable piece of art’, he claim is ‘This work is beyond the old modern art.’ The first claim he might have puled of, the second one is ridiculous. In his response, mr. Fuchs says he was taken aback by the beauty of the object. Well, hallelujah, I would expect no less by an object made with so many diamonds and platinum and by the best jewellers money can buy. The conceptual part behind it on the other hand; a counter-vanitas, creating an object that traditionally hints on death and mortality with materials that are, almost, eternal is as thin as a Pringle. Any art student that would propoase such a project, without having milions to spend on making it, would be failed by his teachers. Mr. Fuchs further claims that you have to see it, before you can judge it. However, I feel no inclination whatsoever to go and see such a monstrous object of machismo (beautiful as it undoubtedly is) and pay good money for it. The foundation it is built on is unstable, so the building will crumble. Hirst’s skull comments on death, by paying others to make an object for eternity which, if you really look at it, will not be able to hold up in time. Perhaps that irony is the true art-lesson of ths work.