Millionaire shock artist Damien Hirst, recently named Most Powerful Person in the International Art World and Lord of Toddington Manor, is stirring things up again. He has done a second version of his statue Virgin Mother, which has just been installed in London. His first version of this sculpture is on display at Lever House in New York, and it was pilloried in an apocalyptic article by Jerry Saltz for Artnet. BBC News has a report (Hirst statue unveiled in London, May 22):
A 35ft-tall, 13-and-a-half-ton Damien Hirst statue revealing the insides of a pregnant woman has been unveiled at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The Virgin Mother has layers removed on one side to reveal the foetus and the woman's skull, muscles and tissue. The BBC News website was given first look at the statue, part of the gallery's Summer Exhibition, From Life. Head of the exhibition Edith Devaney said: "It will be very interesting to see people's reactions." The bronze statue, recalling Edgar Degas's Little Dancer, dominates the courtyard in front of the gallery, and is visible from Piccadilly where passers by stopped to look as a crane hoisted it into place on Monday. "This is the first piece people encounter on the way into the exhibition, and it says everything about the theme," Ms Devaney told the BBC News website. "I don't think people will be upset by it - I think it's still very beautiful. Because there is a baby involved, it is very life-affirming."It was difficult to cast something this huge in bronze, and it is apparently one of the largest bronze statues in the world. To keep it from collapsing under its own weight, certain delicate parts have been reinforced with a stainless steel skeleton. The Summer Exhibition is open from June 12 to August 20.
The Degas comparison is an interesting one, but the subject matter reminded me of Leonardo's drawings. Part of the shock of this piece is its anatomical focus, something like a vivisection, amplified by its massive scale. Although they were never meant for public consumption, Leonardo did make several sketches in his notebooks from anatomical studies on all sorts of interesting human subjects, including a fetus in the womb, a man and woman in the sexual act, the position of fetuses in utero, and a woman's viscera. Then again, Leonardo sketched a lot of crazy things, but the point I am making is that beauty is not only skin deep.