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Representing our ideas of value by two professions: banking and art.

We have long entrusted the task of representing our ideas of value to members of two professions that might seem to have little in common: banking and art. And, in the last seven hundred years or so, it has happened more than once that visual and financial inventors have come up with strikingly similar representations


DISCUSSED: Shadowy Holding Companies, The Questionable Ontology of Finance Itself, Very Public Vanitas, Financiers' Tastes, A Whole New Shark, Begetting the Federal Reserve, Tiny Areas of Color, Vast Amounts of Liquidity, An Unexpected Madonna, Duccio's Compatriots, Double-Entry Bookkeeping, Leaves Blowing in the Wind

In 2007, with financial markets ballooning on every side, the artist Damien Hirst cast a real human skull in platinum, encrusted the cast with 8,601 diamonds that might or might not have come from "conflict-conscious" sources, and called his construction For the Love of God. Images of the macabre object circulated with incredible speed, and there was cheery debate about whether the accomplishment of the work was in the realm of aesthetics or that of the market, whether what mattered were the artist's choices or the fact that the piece had lived up to its announced intention to be "the most expensive piece of art by a living artist" and had sold for $100 million.

Two years later, with financial markets imploding on every side, it was reported that the work had in fact been sold to a holding company that turned out to consist of Hirst's gallerist, his business manager, his friend the Russian billionaire art collector Viktor Pinchuk, and Hirst himself. There were then those who, staring at their own newly empty stock portfolios, found in the title apt expression of their feelings. The work itself, with its diamond-laden eye sockets and its original inhabitant's grinning teeth, seems unperturbed by any hollowness of value in the financial or art markets. It does not matter to this cynical epitome of our glittering age whether it was made for the love of anything but more zeroes.

-- Rachel Cohen is the author of A Chance Meeting, and of Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, which is forthcoming from the Yale University Press Jewish Lives series in fall 2013. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.


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