Damien Hirst with For the Love of God.

Rock Star On Tour: Damien Hirst’s Skull at the Rijksmuseum

For just over a month (November 1–December 15, 2008), Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum acquired a new art chapel, an almost pitch-black, 30-square-meter room housing Damien Hirst’s spotlighted skull, For the Love of God (2007). I entered the space after taking part in what was almost a procession. Accompanying me on my sneak peek were a German and a Belgian journalist, the museum’s general director, a curator of 17th-century art, a recent hire for contemporary interventions, and a museum press officer.

We walked through rooms filled with old masters, the three writers carrying contemporary attributes—glossy black shopping bags with large diamond skulls imposed on them and filled with press kits, catalogues, and photo CDs.

Tension between art, marketing, and celebrity defined this installation of the diamond skull and the accompanying exhibition of 17th-century art guest-curated by Hirst.1 The same tension may also explain why Hirst’s work is difficult to place. It seems to touch early 21st-century life in global capitalism: installed with intense Caravaggesque lighting beamed strategically from above, the entire package was designed to dazzle as well as repulse. But most of all, it was designed to get people talking.