Sunday, February 27, 2005

Vanitas, vanitas

(photo from
I read an interveiw with Damian Hirst in the NYT today.
He has switched to painting because, he says, he got bored of being who he was- of putting animals in formaldehyde. Me, too. So I searched the web for examples of his painting and was pretty surprised to find I liked them. But that's beside the point.
Something I read suggested that his work, always exploring the quest for immortality, is from the great "Vanitas" tradition of European art. This is the convention of recalling the transitoriness of life in visual terms. And that, my dears, is what set sailing off on the web for another fascinating adventure.
What constitutes Vanitas sculpture? There's a fair amount of it around these days, like Gabriel Orozco's human skull painted with harlequin squares, Yukanori Yanigai's dollar bill in sand eaten by live ants (shades of Hirst!), and Julian Laverdiere's Vanitas which keeps fruit alive forever. Stretch.
For sheer Vanitas impact, give me the effigies on European tombs every time. I love the classic lines of the dead guy or woman under the stone. Just think- you're looking at the occupant as s/he was. Now open the box and pop! Dust and mites. Now THAT's Vanitas.
And all this meditation on death and art brings me to the topic of war memorials. I've been working on a doc for three years, and am closing in on the finish now. I've come to the conclusion that no matter how much a memorial means to those who raise it, unless it's a great work of art on its own, or is on the site of a battle itself, it rarely means anything at all to people 3 generations (or maybe even two) later. Talk to anyone around now and they'll swear that the message of Maya Lin's Wall in DC is timeless. No one will ever fail to be moved by it, they say. Just what the survivors of WWI said when they raised their cenotaphs in England. And now, people rarely even see them.
Which goes to prove- Vanitas, vanitas, even death is vanitas.

Posted by Hello

No comments:

Post a Comment

Because blogger has made it impossible for comments to appear on this blog, please send all comments to
I'd love to hear from you and will post your responses in the post itself.