Famed artist Damien Hirst is known for having a bit of an obsession with death. His 2007 work, For the Love of God, is a life-size cast of a mature human skull covered in platinum and diamonds. His most recently created bejeweled skull, For Heaven’s Sake, “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,” according to the Gagosian Gallery. They say, “This spectacular memento mori was cast from an original skull that formed part of a nineteenth-century pathology collection that Hirst acquired some years ago.” For Heaven’s Sake, created in 2008, will be on display at the Hong Kong gallery beginning January 18 as part of an exhibition titled Forgotten Promises.
Hirst says, “Diamonds are about perfection and clarity and wealth and sex and death and immortality. They are a symbol of everything that’s eternal, but then they have a dark side as well.” The gallery’s description of Hirst’s work goes on to say it “highlights the duality that lies at the heart of human experience, from our inexorable struggles between life and death, beauty and decay, desire and fear, love and loss.” Hirst is a parent himself, and while a fellow art-world parent praised his baby skull as “odd, but beautiful,” others are much more critical, calling his work “a nihilistic and decadent disrespect for the dead.”
That quote comes from right-wing bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, who says Hirst’s skull “speaks of a deepening darkness in the culture.” I do agree that Americans are becoming more and more fascinated with all things morbid: vampires, werewolves, zombies, skulls. Death is certainly in fashion – quite literally, as I noted in my post about French Vogue’s kiddie spread. But this skull doesn’t really bother me. I don’t know if that’s just because I like shiny things, or if I’d feel differently seeing it in person, but I’m more grossed out by the posters for the “Bodies” exhibit than I am by Hirst’s artwork, especially since it’s a cast of a skull and not the real thing.
How do you feel: Is this diamond-encrusted baby skull morally reprehensible? Is it fine art? Or both?