Back In 2007, White Cube gallery in London exhibited arguably the most expensive artwork ever made sold for $100 million, paid in cash. The work titled ‘For the Love of God’ was created by English artist, entrepreneur and art collector Damien Hirst.
One would think that this highly skilled and expensive exercise of extravagance would not have caught the attention of many buyers, but White Cube reports that three or four collectors showed interest in acquiring the skull, among which we can find famous pop singer George Michael. For those who were short of funds, Mr. Hirst was kind enough to offer limited editions of silkscreen prints of it, ranging between $2,000 and $20,000.
Since emerging into the international art scene during the late 1980’s Damien Hirst has become one of the most famous living artists, as evidenced by his more than $400 million net worth. More importantly, his works have pushed the boundaries of contemporary art, thus making him one of the most controversial artists alive.
Hirst has had a long career as an artist, where he has created paintings, sculptures, drawings and installation works which observe the complex relationship between life and death.
‘For the Love of God’ is no exception to his rule, and the piece of work shifts us to think about this theme as well as art and value.
Illuminated within a glass case in a dim lit room on the top floor of the White Cube Gallery, audiences are presented with a platinum cast human skull sourced from the mid 1800’s, encrusted with 8,601 of the world’s finest diamonds and weighing 1,106 carats in value. The centre focus point of the work is the large tear-shaped pink diamond mounted on the forehead of the skull, surrounded by smaller glistening stones. The white teeth sourced from the original skull smile at you as the work is both beautiful and unsettling.
Inspired by Aztec turquoise mosaic skulls, Hirst considered making a diamond version. Although the $23 million manufacturing price tag originally put his mind away from creating the artwork, he quickly found reason behind the work and wanted to address death from a different angle.
As he stated: “Death is such a heavy subject, it would be good to make something that laughed in the face of it.” The artwork juxtaposes the glistening bright skull, and its extreme value makes a mockery of the dark bleakness surrounding it.
The skull is alluring and demands silence, and it raises a common talking topic and issue on the world we live within where art meets money. Hirst’s title of the work lends itself the familiar phrase “For the Love of God, what are we all thinking?” One can go beyond the materiality of the piece of work and understand Hirst’s work as a mockery game where he ensured that the buyer of the work could never fully enjoy it due to its extreme value and the high security that goes with it.
Although it could be said that the work isn’t what you would call public art due to its high value, Hirst hopes that an institution like the British Museum may display it for a period before it disappears into a vault, never to be seen again. Regardless of if the piece is seen or not, “For the Love of God” places Hirst in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most extravagant artist, and it will be a long time before anyone can match his extravaganza game.