A Whole New Shark
|November 20, 2012|
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, Damien Hirst, 1991
From The Believer:
When I’ve gone to the Met to study the early Italian works that Berenson loved and appraised, I’ve often wandered into other parts of the museum, and gradually a looping chain of connections among certain works of art and their financial eras has grown up in my mind.
For several years, the Met had on display another work by Damien Hirst, one called The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. This work is famous for containing a real tiger shark, first preserved in formaldehyde by Hirst’s team in 1991. It was lent to the museum by hedge-fund financier Steven Cohen, listed in Forbes magazine as one of fourteen collectors whose art holdings are evaluated in excess of $700 million. Cohen paid for his Hirst, in the pre-leverage era, $8 million.
At the Met, people, especially small children, approach the gray, pendulous beast in its glass-and-riveted-steel tank with a certain anxiety. The piece combines menace and precariousness. I often find myself imagining the glass giving way and the blue-tinted formaldehyde pouring out into the room. The title of the work argues, convincingly, that it is hard to bring yourself to believe that the animal is really dead, and the use of this uneasiness to create the artistic impact is sinister. But under what is sinister is what is bewildering, and the bewilderment is common to both the new conceptual art and the new finance. The original shark, it turns out, rotted. Something about the formaldehyde process was miscalculated. The New York Times reported that they had to get a whole new shark in 2006; the work was evidently not constructed to stand the proverbial test of time. Steven Cohen was asked if he thought it was still the same piece, given that it wasn’t the same shark. He responded—and one feels that he could be talking as much about his profession as about his collection—that it didn’t really matter if the object itself endured: “We’re dealing with a conceptual idea.” Or, as Hirst himself put it in an interview with the Daily Telegraph last year, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.”
In analyses of the financial crisis, it has become commonplace to point out that the prognosticators at Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs, and the hedge-fund financiers and advertising moguls who love to collect Hirst’s art, seem to think about only extremely small windows of opportunity in time. The long future of their investors and even, strangely, of their own enterprises, does not seem to be, to them, terribly compelling. We are reminded by pundits on the right and on the left that a hundred years ago, when the Morgan and Lehman and Goldman and Sachs families ran these banks, the long-term reputation of the enterprise was a crucial asset to the bankers. Even in the riotously speculative Gilded Age, this fact acted as a curb against profiteering, one that no longer seems to have any effect on many members of our financial classes. But can it be that it is only our bankers who have lost the sense of enduring value over time?
Inherent Vice’s Two Directions
The jokes certainly strike one as sophomoric and the latter one as clichéd, further below Pynchon’s intelligence than one would like to think he would stoop, at least in print. Discounting them and moving on, or throwing the book across the room as Parker half implies we should do, however, would be to lose sight of “that high magic to low puns”.
Auden, Larkin and Love
I was prompted to revisit these ancient questions anew by a long footnote about a single line in the new Complete Poems edition of Philip Larkin’s poetry. The footnote refers to “An Arundel Tomb” contains a provocative remark about that the poem’s celebrated, controversial, closing line, the one about the true nature of immortality: “What will survive of us is love.”
Plato, Our Comrade?
Not surprisingly, there have already been critics of Badiou’s translation. The first is that his translation breaks the formal rules of translation to such a degree that the original meaning of the text has lost its significance. But this critique is inadequate at face value because Badiou’s hyper-translation is forthright in its intention of taking Plato’s concepts and modifying them into his own lexicon.
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Marcel Duchamp sat silent. He seemed far away, lost in reverie. Then, he spoke of the death of art, which he described as “posterity, meaning art history.” He said “history” means death and so anything which is recorded permanently as a part of history is dead.” I thought of the internet. I made a note on my sheet of possible questions: the internet kills art by turning everything into a permanent record.
Twenty-three brunettes, 10 puffs of pubic hair, nine pairs of panties, two t-shirts, two socks, one tank-top, one bra, one bottle, and one bowling ball—though I suppose it could be a basketball, a medicine ball, or a soccer ball. Twenty legs amputated by the edges of absent frames. Four pairs of legs spread wide open (one of these ass-to-us).