Monday, Nov. 01, 2010

Damien Hirst's For the Love of God

Damien Hirst is not the world's greatest current artist. But he's probably its savviest. The 45-year-old Briton, who is worth well over $200 million, has made a career out of provocative installation pieces: his shark carcass embalmed in formaldehyde or, in another instance, a rotting cow head encased in glass as it gets devoured by maggots drew the praise of eminent critics and the attention of moneyed collectors from Europe to the Middle East and Asia. His most sensational work, For the Love of God (2007) — the skull of an 18th century European cast in platinum and then encrusted with some 8,600 flawless diamonds — was reportedly named following an exasperated exclamation from Hirst's mother about his work. The gleaming skull cost some $20 million to assemble and was rumored to be valued at nearly five times that at auction. The publicity it gave the Hirst brand, already well known, was incalculable. For the Love of God hogged headlines worldwide for weeks and placed Hirst at the apex of all contemporary-art discussions. The piece itself, though, didn't sell outright and was eventually bought up by a consortium of investors — including Hirst himself.