There are tickets, there are bouncers, there are cordons and bag checks and then you are in lock-down with the famous skull for five minutes. The experience is somewhere between nightclub, Bond Street jeweler and security vault: anthropologically, nothing like an art exhibit.
And not so much art as the last gasp of decadence, the brightest bling ever made from an open-mouthed skull. In the pitch dark, it shines like starlight, while looking curiously knitted: 8,601 diamonds in twinkly moss stitch. Damien Hirst hopes the head will triumph over death, and maybe it is in some way sacred to the artist, like that jeweled skull of the Aztec god in the British Museum from which it so precisely derives. Certainly, it stifles visual analysis as anything except a staggering sight. But as a comment on the raging debate about art and money, For the Love of God is pretty much priceless: which other work of art so effectively narrows the gap between material value and aesthetic worth (£15 million for the diamonds, £50 million for the object) by being 30 percent pure gleaming wealth?
Hirst’s true brilliance was in his first flush — the shark, the flies, the paschal lamb in its afterlife of silver bubbles: perfect as visual allegories. They were catnip for critics searching for contemporary art with any kind of meaning and the shark was custom-made for the biggest of art sharks. When he opened a restaurant, spotted wallpaper and butchered cows were his wares. Butterflies trapped in bright paint were for collectors still interested in beauty. Now that Hirst sells to hedge-fund managers, he has his shrewd eye, as ever, on the clientele: the skull is such a commodity, so easily traded and worth way more than its own weight in brand-name, platinum and diamonds.
Hirst has long since defied Blake’s assertion that art cannot be carried on where any view of money exists. This vast exhibition is split between two shops. There is nothing to frighten the cautious investor and you can buy the same commodities in both. Hoxton, in London, being smaller, has only half a dozen of Hirst’s cancer paintings: blood-red panels in which razor blades, shards of glass, hair and assorted crucifixes and St Christophers are glued to images of malignant cells beneath the microscope. Mason’s Yard has more, and bigger, plus a solid silver figure dangling his own flayed skin: Gray’s Anatomy plus Gunther von Hagens. But since he cannot martyr real people, Hirst uses real animals instead — pierced with arrows, crucified or flayed and beautiful in their way as Soutine’s painted carcasses. Though what they add to the hardly deficient tradition of religious art isn’t clear and not in any degree spiritual. Life and death, in Hirst’s art, happen to the body, not the soul.
The message of these works is as blunt and incontrovertible as ever. We bleed, we suffer, we die; art is money, money is power; they want to confront you with the most literal and obvious facts. Disease has its vile beauty, dung-flies glitter too; you can’t argue with that. But the aesthetic is getting so upscale as to interfere with the one-two impact. The shards of glass, for instance, ought to make you wince — Hirst used to be so good at poking the mind’s eye — and not look merely pretty. But there are some works here that falter in visual terms and are strangely the better for it.
The many paintings of the birth of Hirst’s third child by Caesarean section are badly copied from photographs, yet they cannot help being poignant. The highlights look as if they were done in Tippex, the reflections of hospital equipment, of bloody bowls and surgical knifes, are generally misplaced, yet the expressions of anxiety, concentration and eventual joy are more affecting for being inept. And which father will not recognize the self-deprecating wit of captioning his own photograph, masked and gowned, Self-Portrait as Surgeon?
But the piece that convinced me that Hirst was sincere was in some ways the silliest in the show. Three skinned sheep kneel in prayer before a whole neonatal unit containing incubator, heart monitor, miniature dummy and bottle and all the paraphernalia familiar to any new parent who has spent anguished days in intensive care. It is a nativity scene, obviously, and the baby is cast in pure silver. Or, rather, its skeleton is silver, for the body has spirited away. All that’s left is a bright vision, a transfiguration — or a terrible fear: nothing but precious bones.
At the last count, Hirst was just below Jeff Koons in the 100 most important figures in the art world, though they will surely reverse positions some day soon. Koons, famously an early influence on Hirst, is more than 10 years older and his two new London shows suggest that he’s running out of puff.
Or just going backwards. Giant swimming-pool inflatables of spotty dogs and lobsters are cast in aluminium, but painted to look exactly like plastic, a nugatory advance on the heavy-metal balloons of the 1980s. And Koons’ huge new series of paintings, the size of billboards and fully as brash, go right back to the sampling and layering of that decade.
Monkey-faced balloons, steam trains, Popeye, the Incredible Hulk, the Liberty Bell, all are overlaid in eye-popping lime, turquoise, violet and yellow. Styles are scrambled — woodcut, cartoon, photorealism, oilpaint squeezed out like toothpaste, but each portrayed with flawlessly invisible brushwork. Silver overprints turn white or vanish in certain lights, so that you notice only this Jolly Green Giant or that lurking leafprint from unexpected angles in the gallery. They should keep the eye in constant motion — no place to rest — but in fact, they resist even the most dutiful contemplation.
Illusion, confusion, collage, pastiche: the canvases reminded me a little of Sigmar Polke’s tricksy games of the Eighties but without the intellectual thrust. Like the sculptures, these Popish paintings are monumental but typically, deliberately, weightless.
African-American entertainer Dooley appeared on local television show Super Entourage (小明星大跟班) a few weeks ago and was told by the crew that they wanted to do a skit in blackface. Dooley, whose real name is Matthew Candler, tells the Taipei Times that Super Entourage wanted to perform a rendition of the wildly popular “Ghana Coffin Dance,” a meme that has taken the world by storm. Instead, he showed them videos about the racist origins of blackface and slavery in America, and they agreed to drop the makeup. “[I told them] about the history [behind blackface] and [said] you decide
June 1 to June 7 In February 1988, Robert Wu (吳清友) set aside NT$17.5 million to purchase two Henry Moore sculptures from London’s Marlborough Gallery. He never bought the pieces. Feeling slighted that the gallery manager initially looked down on him as a Taiwanese, he decided that night to use the money to open his own art space back home. “Without selling any art, that money could support the gallery for four years. If I feature one artist per month, that provides a stage for at least 100 artists,” Wu said in the book Eslite Time (誠品時光) by Lin Ching-yi (林靜宜).
With listicles of local attractions including Costco and numerous children’s playgrounds, I was not expecting much. Opened on Jan. 31, the Taipei MRT’s Circular Line, or Yellow Line, made life in the nation’s capital even more convenient. But judging from Internet search results, it hasn’t opened up many new tourism opportunities, unsurprising as the route mostly crosses densely populated areas and industrial parks. Places like a sports stadium with rainbow colored bleachers perfect for Instagram selfies wouldn’t do it for me either, and it’s pointless to list attractions at the connecting stops that have existed for years. As a history nerd, there
The morning after the ride, my hands ached in a way I’d never before experienced, and my palms looked slightly bruised. Flexing my fingers as I waited for my coffee to cool down, I knew exactly which part of the previous day’s excursion had done this to me. As the go-to-work rush hour ebbed, I’d set off inland on my 125cc scooter. I took Provincial Highway 20 as far as Tainan City’s Yujing District (玉井). From there, I took Provincial Highway 3 into Nansi District (楠西). The route I’d planned would take me past the eastern side of Zengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫)