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POLL: How offensive is Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted baby skull?

January 10, 2011 |  1:41 pm

Hirst Few artists know how to polarize the public like Damien Hirst, the British provocateur and Turner Prize winner whose most famous works include a shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde, a living installation of a fly's life cycle and a sculpture depicting an anatomical cross-section of a pregnant woman titled "Virgin Mother."

This week, Hirst finds himself once more at the center of art-world chatter thanks to his 2008 sculpture "For Heaven's Sake," which depicts a human baby skull covered in diamonds. The work is part of a Hirst solo show that is scheduled to open this month at the new Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong.

The Gagosian's website offers this description of the sculpture: "For Heaven's Sake (2008) is a life-size human baby skull cast in platinum and covered in 8,128 pavé-set perfect diamonds: 7,105 natural fancy pink diamonds and, on the fontanel, 1,023 white diamonds. This spectacular memento mori was cast from an original skull that formed part of a 19th-century pathology collection that Hirst acquired some years ago."

("For Heaven's Sake" is something of a companion piece to Hirst's  "For the Love of God," a life-size cast of a mature human skull in platinum covered in diamonds.)

According to a report this week in Britain's Telegraph, a parenting group claims that the art work is offensive to those who have suffered the bereavement of a child.The newspaper quotes the group Netmums as saying that the artist "may not have intended to be insensitive with his new work, but the fact is it will have a profound effect on many people who will find the subject deeply disturbing."

The newspaper also quotes Jude Tyrrell, the director of Science Ltd., Hirst's main art-production company, saying: "Of course it's a delicate subject, but this is from an old collection, which we think is Victorian, and they were obsessed with collecting all sorts of bizarre things."

How do you feel about Hirst's baby skull? Let us know in our poll.




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Photo: Damien Hirst's "For Heaven's Sake." Credit: via Bloomberg


Comments () | Archives (24)

I think all art, good or bad is valuable to society and that despite the fact Hirst is a sensationalist showman, I make my own interpretations of his work and they mean something significant to me, even if nobody else might deem it the same way. Does nobody else see this skull as a mockery of consumerism and the disgusting way that humanity has consistently fallen to the wayside of needing external validation? Well, that's immediately what I thought, anyway. I just walked by a baby boutique the other day where teeny tiny toddler clothes were selling for hundreds of dollars. I thought to myself: is this what life and happiness means for some people? Some want to believe that personal value comes with status, but when you die (as we all will) you can take none of it with you. You're just a pile of bones, and all else that remains of your life is a accumulated pile of stuff that has no meaning anymore. Maybe that's what the juxtaposition is here. What's more meaningful to a person: the life he was born with and fully possesses (in the abstract sense) or the material possessions he acquires in life? Not trying to preach, this is just what was triggered for me when I saw the piece. Whether that was Hirst's intention, I don't know, but maybe it doesn't matter, either...?

The cast skull itself doesn't bother me but the evocation of the history of blood diamonds and accompanying brutality especially to women in Africa makes my stomach churn. I don't care that he says that they are not blood diamonds. The industry itself is brutal and exploitative. The diamond aka "a girl's best friend" is no girl's best friend here or wherever they came from...only Damien Hirst's friend.

If you haven't actually been in a room with Hirst's art you have no meaningful comment on it. I'm not rich. I don't approve of the crass "dealer commercialisation" of art. I'm not ever going to buy a Hirst piece.

But time after time at art fairs and galleries, his work has a power that nothing else in the room does. It's often both both beautiful and disturbing.

This child's skull incidentally IS a real skull, bought from a Victorian collection.

We value humanity, or say we do, and yet human remains are treated as garbage, to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Encrusting the skull in precious stones highlights that, as well as raising disturbing ideas about consumerism and beauty. Much of his best work is about transitory states of life. The preserved animals are dead, but trapped as in life, preserved as in aspic. It's a disturbing juxtaposition. And no, a skull made of crystal does NOT have the same artistic power as a genuine skull encrusted with diamonds.

I don't like all of Hirst's work, but I do like his contemplations on mortality.

His are desires for immortality, the fixation of all minigod contempt artistes. This has nothing to do with life, it is as fantasy as his pickled 'unicorns" You want suspended life, it has been here for decades, go to a natural history museum. Or better yet, the plasticized body exhibit that tours the world. THAT is fascinating, and yes, real bodies.

This is entertainemtn and absurdist titilation of the rich. A seperatist Neverland for those who will never grow up.

As St Paul and some guy named Obama said
It is time to put aside childish things.

Seriously, art collegia delenda est
Fine art colleges must be destroyed.

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