No matter how you dress it up … it’s still gold on a dead bovine

Golden-Calf-by-Damien-Hurst

How much would you pay for a bull in formaldehyde? Some think £8-12 million sounds reasonable! Admitably the hooves, horns and crown are 18-carat gold but, call me a Philistine, I think “lipstick on a pig” is a metaphor that’s not entirely inappropriate for this Golden Calf by Damien Hurst.

Not that this artwork is inaffective. It symbolically evokes science, religion, beauty and death readily enough, which seems to be the intent. But, as in the way of contemporary art, it’s in that meaningless meaning, messageless messanger sort of way. Having been extracted from its narrative context, the religious content becomes obscure and illusive.

6 Comments

  1. Interstingly would be viewed as far less bizarre than the recent Chinese exhibition of executed and skinned humans showing all the muscle fibres, joints etc.
    Taxidermy of dead animals far more socially acceptable than what I just described.
    The spiritual component (gold head piece, Baal symbolism??) can’t go unnoticed.
    Wonder if its occurring as art now is fairly ironic given this week’s debacle concerning Indonesia’s abbattoir workers being criticised for their cruel treatment of exported Aussie cows?

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  2. Executed and skinned humans???!! Hadn’t head of that.
    As for the Baal symbolism, can’t go unnoticed by those who come to it ALREADY knowing the story, but what of those who don’t? And even for those who do, without a context, without a frame, without a scene, or a series of scenes, or conflicting symbols, it’s unclear whether idolatry is being critiqued, justified or relativized. This is what I mean by the meaningless meaning. It suggests a meaning but the deeper you dig the more illusive it becomes.

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  3. seems i’m always on here to be the art teacher and defend artists!!!
    here’s a scenario – you are an amazonian who has always lived in the jungle and never had contact with the outside world. one day, you are taken from the jungle and placed in front of a computer. what sense would it make to you? does this mean the computer has failed in its function?
    or, one of us, with computer literacy and an interest in science etc, are placed at the controls of the large hedron collider at cern. what does the machine do next? does the fact that it sits there doing absolutely nothing, because you or i are in control, mean that it’s a total waste of money, energy, space and ideas?
    or, lionel messi, regarded as possibly the greatest footballer to have ever played the game, comes to australia. someone sticks a cricket bat in his hands and puts him at one end of a wicket with shane warne at the other end bowling to him? does this prove that cricket is a worthless game?
    in pretty much every aspect of our lives, we would expect that to be good at something, or to even be able to undertake a task, we would need to be taught the skills, then spend time practising them ourselves in order to master them. yet, put an artwork in front of anybody and they are happy to write it off, criticise it or say it’s ineffectual, without having ever been taught anything about the art, or even how to think about art, or taken the time to research context, symbolism etc themselves. why do we think that understanding art is an intrinsic quality that every human automatically has mastery of? why do we think that it’s not necessary to research context to fully understand art in the same way we would for history, science, mechanics or sport?
    that the artwork’s meaning might be lost on people who don’t understand baal worship, the origins of the term of ‘golden calf’, egyptian religious systems, taxidermist traditions or the nature of post-modern art etc etc is not the fault of the artwork.
    people should expect to have to work at understanding art in exactly the same way they work at every other aspect of their lives.

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  4. I hear what you’re saying Adrian and I am very sympathetic towards your concerns, but in a way your protest reinforces the very thing I am concerned about: context. It is not so much the art that concerns me but its fast decontextualization on the one hand and mass communication on the other. Many a new religious movement has been birthed by a verse taken out of context. Given we have shifted from a text-based culture to an image-based culture I’m of the view that an image taken out of context has the potential to create more havoc, culturally, than a verse taken out of context. Curious though, that it is done more frequently to less protest.

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  5. i still don’t see how you can blame the art for that. labeling hurst’s work ‘lipstick on a pig’ and ‘meaningless meaning’ still completely misses the mark for mine.
    i agree that imagery has become more detached from context in our environment but that shouldn’t mean artists should be forced to spell everything out in their artworks just so they don’t get misinterpreted. surely you don’t want the kind of picture book descriptive art that that would lead to.

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