For the Love of God
At Sotheby’s back in 2008, an anonymous bidder bought a bull in a tank of formaldehyde for £10.3million. The world’s most expensive cow was brought out, paraded in a glow blue gel-like substance, inevitably, by the artist Damien Hirst. Hirst is well- known for some of his more controversial work – including his infamous diamond encrusted monstrosity of materiality, “For the Love of God” – estimated costing some £14 million to produce, and £50 million pounds at selling price, this would have been the most expensive work sold to date by a still living artist.
This diamond crusted monstrosity, for something so small, stands at the peak of materiality in an unregulated art market – “For the love of God”, one would jokingly say out of exasperation. The drive to produce work devoid of all artistic nuances in place of monetary value, would be an endeavour in itself. Surrounding all the buzz in glistening lights, this dead skull rises as the pinnacle of the death to the arts – at least, the late Australian art critic Robert Hughes, isn’t buying the hype.
Hype culture surrounding art
Hughes – who presents The Mona Lisa Curse (2008) documentary on the BBC, considers Hirst’s work flashy and fatuous. Indeed he has described one of the British artist’s sharks in formaldehyde as “the world’s most overrated marine organism” – as pointed out by The Telegraph. His core beef with Hirst’s success illustrates a far deeper concern he has with the world of art and the art market- works in his eyes devoid of meaning in pursuit for material worth.
How does this tie back in to the Mona Lisa? Well, the famous artwork goes through a similar process, a process of removing soul from the work, stripping the beautiful painting from all the intrinsic meaning in favour for the elusive star quality and treatement she receives. It’s not an argument that the Mona Lisa should not be revered but instead the perversion of her reverence.
Narrated by the late art critic Robert Hughes,
On September 16, even as Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch were collapsing, Damien Hirst was setting a new record for sales at auction by an individual artist. His private auction at Sotheby’s netted him $197.8 million.
The staggering sums accrued here, particularly against the backdrop of such a massive financial crisis, indicate a new stage in the commodification of artwork. It is to the credit of the critic Robert Hughes, therefore, that his Channel 4 programme, “The Mona Lisa Curse,” sought to explore and lay bare the ways in which the market stifles and dominates artistic endeavour.
Hughes looked at historical changes in exhibiting and selling art over the last half century. He was unafraid to give his opinion of just how bad much of this art is and how it is marketed and bought for commercial rather than aesthetic reasons.
Hughes dates the beginning of the present malaise within art and art exhibition to 1963, when the Louvre arranged to show the Mona Lisa in Paris. Hughes identifies a number of trends emerging from this moment. For the first time, people queued round the block “not to look at [the Mona Lisa], but to say that they’d seen it.” Meaning within the artwork became secondary to it as spectacle. Every generation started looking for “its” Mona Lisa, and elevating works of art to celebrity status
An eye opening documentary – one that questions the very nature of the art market and highlights a deeper problem we have between art and it’s perceived monetary value.