What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark?
It would be like sleep without dreams.
— Werner Herzog1At the 2:58 mark here.
Critics are always chasing the next big thing, just like those old Nantucket whalemen. They set out into the immense art-world sea. They scan the art-horizon, looking hard for a bubble, a breech, or a blow — some sign of life. When an art-leviathan betrays itself, the critics lower their little newspaper or blog-boats, pursue the beast, and start hurling review-harpoons. With any luck, they subdue it, and drag it to the side of the mother-ship. Then the art historians and the “culture workers” begin their melancholy butcheries. One might skin the monster’s penis, another will crack the head open and bail out the spermaceti — the oily treasure that gives the sperm whale its name, while yet another will probe the corpse’s bowels for nuggets of ambergris — a type of whaleshit more precious than gold. Once the body is denuded of its strange trophies and mysterious treasures, they’ll chop up what’s left, toss it into a cauldron, boil it down to render the corpse into something useful — render it down to its greasy, pure, essential meaning.
Culture-making is like the whaling industry — reductive, predatory and, when seen up close, it’s kind of disgusting. The “culture industry” works like a well-oiled machine, as long as the prey — the talent — plays along. But once in a great while, a sixty-ton monster slaps his or her tail, upsets the whaleboats, gets up a head of steam, and staves the ship. Something like that is happening, right now, in Venice.
By any measure, Damien Hirst’s current exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, is a whale of a show — and the critics are dutifully tossing their harpoons. They will tell you the exhibition is not just a disaster, it is the “greatest flop in living memory,” it is “undoubtedly one of the worst exhibitions of contemporary art staged in the past decade,” it is “quite frankly, absurd. It should be dumped at the bottom of the sea.” It is, according to the melliloquent Edward Lucie-Smith, a “gallimaufry of anachronisms.” One critic invites us to “look on these works and despair.” Some critics have written positive reviews, but they are few indeed.
The American scholars at Artforum continue their strategy for dealing with ideologically insolent art — near-total radio silence. Any number of our learned critic/historians might relish the opportunity to publicly trash Hirst and his show (as they do in private), but they are smart enough to know that doing this might have unintended consequences.
Holland Cotter, co-chief art critic of the New York Times, attempts a tactical abdication — he chooses not to play Ahab to Hirst’s briny behemoth of a show. Cotter responds to it in passing, with a strange non-review review, at the end of his round-up of this year’s Venice Biennale and related events:
Maybe because I was coming to Venice this time from a stay in Rome, I’d already had my fill, in art, of antique bloviation and bad Baroque, and here it was again on the Grand Canal. […][E]xperience has taught me that damning criticism can be as useful, promotion-wise, as praise. So I don’t have much to say about “Treasures of the Wreck” except that it’s there; that some people care; and that it’s irrelevant to anything I know about that matters.2Cotter, Holland. Venice Biennale: Whose Reflection Do You See? New York Times. May 22, 2017.
The problem is that Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is not just any whale — it’s another Moby Dick. It is gigantic, labyrinthine, and complex. It is congenitally, unapologetically, discursive. It leads the beholder through little lies and grand truths, from oceanic vistas to ancient minutiae. It’s both hilarious and frightening, maddening and brilliant. Like the novel that explodes and expands the very idea of a novel, this show does the same for the “contemporary art exhibition.” And when you read each one really closely, you’ll find they are put together with otherworldly, monstrous, lapidary skill.
And when sent out into the world, both were panned by bewildered critics.
Hirst’s exhibition fills two immense venues in Venice, the Palazzo Grassi on the San Marco side of the Grand Canal, and the cavernous Punta Della Dogana in the Dorsodoro. Entering the Palazzo Grassi, one is confronted with a sixty-foot tall colossus, a naked, taloned, headless monster that fills the three-story atrium. The remains of a menagerie of primitive sea fauna adheres to the body: barnacles, corals shaped like brains, make-believe anemones, madrepores, psuedo-polyps, sea-worms. The creatures share the patina of the sea-monster’s flesh, these accretions appear as a part of him, growing out of his skin like some bizarre and florid contagion.
The price of admission to Hirst’s exhibition is consent to a certain fantastic fiction. This is, of course, commonplace — we do it every time we open a novel, go to the movies, watch the news, or enter the voting booth. Belief is not benign. If Hirst is just yanking our collective chain, his big joke is no joke at all. Empires and carnage are the potential consequences of consensual delusion, and this notion is but one of the engines that drives Hirst’s extravaganza.
It’s a maritime fairy-tale we are asked to believe. The objects here, we are told, may have been collected by the legendary Cif Amotan II, a freed slave who lived in Antioch in the first and second centuries CE.3Anagramming Hirst’s titles is a bit of a parlor game, here “Cif Amotan II” sorts out to “I am a fiction.” Or, I suppose, “I fit on a mica.” Amotan became spectacularly rich as a freedman, and proceeded to build a “lavish collection of artefacts deriving from the lengths and breadths of the ancient world.”4From the exhibition guide, available here. Amotan’s treasures — “commissions, copies, fakes, purchases and plunder” — were loaded onto a ship named the Apistos (which translates from Greek to the Unbelievable), which promptly sank in the Indian Ocean, consigning the treasure to the briny depths, the mechanics of time and decay, and the underworld of myth and legend. Two thousand years later, the site of the wreck was discovered, and after a decade of underwater excavations and recovery work, the treasures were delivered from the sea to be displayed here in Venice, a perfect venue, the most amphibious of cities, and place that lives outside of time.
The exhibition guide informs us that many of the objects have not been restored, and are “heavily encrusted in corals and marine life, at times rendering their forms virtually unrecognizable.”5Guide. 3. Furthermore, “contemporary museum copies of the recovered objects are also on display, which imagine the works in their original, undamaged forms.”6Guide. 3.
The colossus in the atrium is one of these copies. It is a resin reproduction, a phony of a fake wrapped in a lie, made enormous to fill its new, palatial home. The original, bronze fake is not on display, but can be seen, it seems, as it awaits its recovery on the floor of the sea, in a large backlit photograph nearby. The colossal copy, if we believe the story, is an imagined version of the work in its “original, undamaged form.” Yet the copy is covered with far more maritime incrustations — markers of sea-slumber, age, and decay — than the “original.” If this Demon started its life festooned with marine life, did it anticipate its own undersea future?
And, why not give him back his head?
That head rests a few feet from his body. In an embellishment to the main narrative, we are told it was excavated decades ago near the Tigris, and it was “initially identified as Pazuzu, the Babylonian ‘king of the wind demons.'”7Guide. 36. The discovery of the Unbelievable’s beheaded demon body “appeared to solve a mystery” by disproving the earlier Pazuzu identification — but if not Pazuzu, who is he?8Guide. 36.
He bears an uncanny resemblance to the monster in William Blake’s little masterpiece, The Ghost of a Flea (1819-20), now at the Tate Gallery in London. The Tate tells us that the figure came to Blake as a “spiritual vision,” a hallucination that informed him that all fleas were inhabited by the souls of men who were “by their nature bloodthirsty to excess.”9From the Tate’s display caption. The anonymous museum caption concludes with the observation that “Blake’s amalgamation of man and beast suggests a human character marred by animalistic traits.”10Ibid. It is just this sort of anonymous, obvious and just-so-slightly-condescending museum-speak that Hirst pokes at throughout the exhibition with captions of his own. For example, we are informed that a Roman spoon of the ligula type (which is not present) was “used for eating pulpy food.” That seems to be a reasonable deduction. The pitch-perfect and very amusing texts are credited to Aime Corry.
The ghost of a flea is a giant, bloodthirsty monster — and is the soul of Man. This soul-monster has found its true home inside an insatiable, reviled, pestilence-spreading, blood-sucking parasite, staring into its bowl of blood like a demented Narcissus. The painting is the result of a dream, a vision, a mystic’s kind of sight. There is nothing true here, except the type of deep truth that lurks far below the surface — in metaphor, myth, and dreams.
G. K. Chesterton tells us that the monster’s scale is a key to understanding Blake’s painting. He writes:
It will not be denied that Blake shows the best part of a mystic’s attitude in seeing that the soul of a flea is ten thousand times larger than a flea. But the really interesting point is much more striking. It is the essential point upon which all primary understanding of the art of Blake really turns. The point is this: that the ghost of a flea is not only larger than a flea, the ghost of a flea is actually more solid than a flea. The flea himself is hazy and fantastic compared to the hard and massive actuality of his ghost. When we have understood this, we have understood the second of the great ideas in Blake—the idea of ideas.11Chesterton’s biography of Blake is available here.
If Blake had made the soul of a flea ten thousand times larger than an actual flea, Hirst’s is larger again by several orders of magnitude. If Blake’s painting makes the ghost solid, Hirst translates Blake’s image into an even-more-solid object. Hirst is bigger and more than Blake, and he shows this through Blake’s idiosyncratic allegory of greed and insatiability. As soon as this art-historical in-joke reveals itself, Hirst undermines it. The hollow shell of a monster is beheaded, symbolically castrated, and left for dead.12See A Little History of Castration, here, page 82. And yet he lives, eyes wide and tongue slithering, to the annoyance of critics and the delight of the crowd. Hirst has created yet another zombie.
We could stop here, at Hirst’s art-historical, slapstick punchline, but there is still more to this Demon. He skips like a stone through time — beginning from his ersatz-ancient birth, to the actual-but-ever-elusive present moment, and from the present moment back, touching down in Pazuzu’s Mesopotamia, and once again on Blake’s flea-bitten nightmare. This Demon folds time onto itself, the ancient past and the object’s future are both remembered and anticipated — it is this sort of paradoxical time-bending, of recollecting forward, that is a foundation of Hirst’s entire Cosmos-building extravaganza.13Hirst’s exhibition shares much with the idiosyncratic Cosmos-builders of the New Museum’s recent exhibition, The Keeper. For a detailed note on recollecting forward, see this.
Art, specifically, allows this sort of strange temporal experience, this very special effect. Art historians Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood write:
No device more effectively generates the effect of a doubling or bending of time than the work of art, a strange kind of event whose relation to time is plural. The artwork is made or designed by an individual or a group of individuals at some moment, but it also points away from that moment, backward to a remote ancestral origin, perhaps, or to a prior artifact, or to an origin outside of time, in divinity. At the same time it points forward to all its future recipients who will activate and reactivate as a meaningful event. The work of art is a message whose sender and destination are constantly shifting.14Nagel, A. and C. Wood. Anachronic Renaissance. New York: Zone. 9.
We all know that time is linear, unidirectional, and inescapable. Placing things outside their proper place in time is a mistake, an anachronism, an affront to the natural order of things, to “truth.” But what if the very idea of anachronism is the mistake, itself a chronic misfit — and art operates in time far differently than we do.
There is no anachronism. But there are modes of connection that in a positive sense we can call anachronies: events, ideas, significations that are contrary to time, that make meaning circulate in a way that escapes any contemporaneity, any identity of time with ‘itself.’ An anachrony is a word, an event, or a signifying sequence that has left ‘its’ time, and in this way is given the capacity to define completely original points of orientation (les aiguillages), to carry out leaps from one temporal line to another.”
— Jacques Rancière15Rancière, Jacques. The Concept of Anachronism and the Historian’s Truth (English Translation). InPrint: Vol. 3: No. 1, Article 3. Available here.
Hirst’s Treasures allows us access to this slippery truth. Hirst dives over and over again, into the realm of anachrony, of timelessness — the abyss of myth, ritual, the divine, dreams and nightmares, and deep time.
Hirst mines this underwaterworld, and dredges up, for example, a collection of silver objects on display at the Palazzo Grassi. Underneath their faux-thalassic encrustations, we behold Hirst’s treasures: an Egyptian figure, encumbered with barnacles and brain coral, a wild Greek huntress, fierce and ascendant, a pair of human heads, each one equally blinkered and bound by either penance or sin, and finally, a child’s robot. Here’s another gag — the robot is not some Mesoamerican god, it is a Transformer.
These shiny treasures vibrate, rapidly cycling between two temporal poles — the present, marked by the contemporaneity of the toy robot, or the fashionable fetish gear encasing the Sinner and Penitent, and the deep historical past, evidenced by the Sphinx and the Warrior. This chronological vibration cycles through our everyday kind of time, a type of time that is divisible between past, present, and future — between remembrance and anticipation and now. But the florid maritime growths that afflict each artwork suggest yet another type of temporality — a sort-of oceanic time, the temporality of the abyss, the unbounded, cyclic, eternal non-time of aeon.
Sigmund Freud opens Civilization and Its Discontents with a discussion, suggested to him by his friend Romain Rolland, of the idea of “oceanic feeling,” a sensation of eternity. Freud writes:
[Rolland] was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded — as it were, ‘oceanic‘. This feeling, he adds, is purely a subjective fact, not an article of faith, it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality, but it is the source of religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and doubtless also exhausted by them. One may, he thinks, rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion.16Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton. 24. Freud was skeptical, indicating that this oceanic feeling is by no means universal.
The ancient Greeks made the distinction between these two types of time — chronological and eternal, knowable and mystical — and gave each one its god. Hirst’s glittering treasures rub up against both of them. These Treasures are burnished by the friction between Cronos and Aion — between history and knowledge, and mystery and faith.
As I have noted earlier, repetition is one of the hallmarks of cosmos-building, and so it is with these Treasures as well. If there is one figure that repeats and pervades this exhibition, it is Medusa. A semi-precious, gorgeous-green malachite Medusa’s head is an iconic image, a distillation that serves as a cipher for the entire project — she appears on posters throughout Venice, postcards, ticket stubs, and the cover of the catalog.
Medusa is indeed the god of not just duality, but of simultaneity, of bothness. Medusa embodies both life and death, Eros and Thanatos, male and female, poison and remedy at the same time. Medusa is the first being that might, with perfect grammatical correctness, use the pronoun “they.” “They” appear over and over again, haunting Hirst’s entire project.
Medusa appears in malachite, glass, and gold. In one green, patinated bronze iteration at the Punta Della Dogana, Medusa’s head lies on a glass table, surrounded by the broken remains of the vipers and serpents that once adorned her head. Rising out of the side of her head is a coral growth, shaped like a primeval tree. She sprouts something like the Tree of Life, that fundamental and near-universal ur-object that unites myths and religions from around the globe. This verdant Medusa’s head stands in for a strange and monstrous Mother Earth, the progenitress of all things in this constructed cosmos.
In an astonishing essay entitled Diva Matrix, an Austrian numismatist named Alphons Barb considered a group of things that other scholars — mistakenly, in his view — have literally removed from history. Or tried to. The subjects of his investigation are small, engraved stones called “Abraxas” or “Gnostic” gems. These gems are commonly engraved with a depiction of a uterus, and are often embellished with various phallic symbols –for example, cocks (the avian kind), snakes, suggestive elongated shapes, or cocks (the other kind). These objects were popular collector’s items in the seventeenth century, even the artist Peter Paul Rubens had some, but his were fake.17Barb, A. A. Diva Matrix: A Faked Gnostic Intaglio in the Possession of P. P. Rubens and the Iconology of a Symbol. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 16, No. 3/4 (1953), 193-238.
By the nineteenth century, these stones were considered “wretched objects,” beneath the dignity of scholarly study. They were removed from collections, or hidden away in deep storage. They were given, Barb writes, “a third-class funeral,” buried under heavy spadefuls of critical contempt.18Barb. 193.
In his consideration of these strange, magical things, Barb dives ever deeper into ancient heresies, cosmologies, and origin myths surrounding the iconology of the uterus. With each step, through erudition and iconological legerdemain, he leads us to the sea. He begins with Gnostic cosmic mythology that promoted Hystera (Womb) as creator of the universe.19Barb. 197 This myth is borrowed from an older myth, which identified the primeval womb with “the dark waters of the abyss.”20Barb. 198. In Babylonian cosmology, Thalassa (The Sea), was cut in two — “split like a shell-fish” — one half forming Earth, the other, the vault of Heaven. This, in turn, Barb argues, looks back at a mythology even more ancient. He argues that the symbolic primeval womb takes the form of a spiral, a helix, the shape of a sea-shell — “shell-fish, cockles and conchs — the sexual symbolism [of these depictions] is well documented.” The ocean is the site of the birth of Aphrodite, spawned in the sea-foam splash of Uranus’ testicles, removed from him by his son Cronos, and cast into the ocean. Botticelli delivers Venus on what Barb argues is a womb-shell. This scallop shell, in turn, appears on “innumerable sarcophagi and tombstones where not Venus but the head or bust of the deceased appear inside the shell.”21Barb. 206. Venus’ shell would return as the pilgrim’s shell, a symbol, perhaps, of Christian rebirth.
These shells are not simply ornamentation, but an allusion to “rebirth and eternal life.”22Barb. 206 Mystical rebirth, like the earthly kind, requires a womb. Throughout time the dead have been buried — returned to womb of Mother Earth before a mystical rebirth. Barb describes an ancient, esoteric, oceanic twist. He writes:
“The chthonian conception of rebirth from “Mother Earth” was gradually replaced in the upper and middle classes of later antiquity, under philosophical and theosophical influence (mystery religions), by a maritime conception, a kind of funerary “Neptunium” as opposed to the older “Plutonism.” If one had to return to the Womb to reach the sources of life eternal, why should one stop at Mother Earth, who was herself created from the first abyss, the primeval ocean. For from Okeanos, as Homer already knew, have originated all things and even the gods. To represent this “Womb of the Sea” [one would choose] the shell symbol.”23Barb. 206.
Treasures presents a collection of fake shells — fashioned from silver, gold, and bronze — throughout the exhibition. They appear like way stations, minor but necessary stops along the path of Hirst’s undersea thought-labyrinth, there to remind us that the sea is the source of all things.
Barb makes an abrupt turn at the end of his essay. He adds an appendix, a sort of post-hoc argument overlay, which returns us to Medusa. He reminds us of Freud’s analysis of Medusa’s Head — the psychosexual link between the petrifying fear of castration and a boy-child’s first glimpse of female genitalia, and the later, comforting petrification of his own erection at the sight of the Medusan vagina.24Freud, Sigmund. Medusa’s Head (1922). Collected Papers. New York: Basic Books. 1959. Vol. 5, 105-106. Barb searches for ancient mythological support for Freud’s insight. He reminds us that Medusa’s beheading was also a creative act — at the moment Perseus sliced Medusa’s head from her body, the horse-god Pegasus and his brother Chrysador were born — delivered from the womb of Medusa’s head. Barb argues that Medusa’s head does not just function as any womb, but as the symbol of an oceanic proto-womb. He writes, “The close relationship, if not identity, of the primeval womb with the “Abyss” = the Sea tallies with the fact that Medusa’s parents are reported to have been sea-gods, she is made pregnant by Poseidon himself [and] that in modern Greek folk-lore the Gorgons are identified with Nereids.”25Barb. 210.
Barb continues by troubling the art-historical cliché that Medusa’s head performs as an apotropaic symbol on Roman sepulchral monuments. 26In fact, he calls this reading a “cheap cliché.” Barb. 201. Instead, Barb suggests, Medusa’s head functions as a primeval womb-symbol, offering the promise of rebirth and eternal life.
Hirst’s Medusa, the one from which sprouts that strange coral tree, functions as a primeval earth mother, but, like all Medusa stories, this one knots together opposites. Here she lies, an object of the earth and sea, the mother, not only of all things, but of chthonic complexity. She is simultaneously Earth Mother and Sea Mother, a god of both earthly and watery underworlds.
[Perseus] washes his victorious hands in water drawn for him; and that the Gorgon’s snaky head may not be bruised on the hard sand, he softens the ground with leaves, strews seaweed over these, and lays on this the head of Medusa, daughter of Phorcys. The fresh weed twigs, but now alive and porous to the core, absorb the power of the monster and hardens at its touch and take a strange stiffness in their stems and leaves. And the sea-nymphs test the wonder on more twigs and are delighted to find the same thing happening to them all; and by scattering these twigs as seeds, propagate the wondrous thing throughout their waters. And even till this day the same nature has remained in coral so that they harden when exposed to air, and what was a pliant twig beneath the sea is turned to stone above.
— Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book IV, 740-752.27Ovid. Metamorphoses, in Ovid III, F. J. Miller, trans. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard. 230-31.
In her catalog essay, curator Elena Guena points us to this passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.28Guena, Elena. ‘The Coral Diver’ in Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable: Damien Hirst. London: Other Criteria. 2017. 10 It is yet another origin story, describing the mythological creation of coral. It is not Perseus’ intention to create this strange stuff — alive, soft and billowy in the sea, but petrified into dead stone when brought into our terrestrial world — it is a mythic accident, an overflow of Medusa’s posthumous powers.29For an art-historically definitive text on Medusa’s blood and coral see Michael Cole, “Cellini’s Blood.” in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 81, No. 2, June, 1999. 215-235. In this essay, Cole argues that the peculiar turgid blood pouring out of the head of Medusa in Cellini’s Perseus, in Florence, is, indeed, stylized coral. If we can think through myth, as our ancient kin were able to, Hirst’s entire project is bathed in the blood of Medusa. His mythological subjects, both ancient and new, sprout forests of coral — they are wrapped like mummies in candy-colored, stone-like instability. This stone instability is not a product of incoherence, ambiguity, anachronism, oxymoron, or paradox — but one of an essential simulteneity that art allows us to see, and to feel. It is that old, familiar oceanic feeling — the polar opposite of polar thinking, antidote to corrosive Manichaeism, the realm beyond insufficient logics and inadequate words — that Hirst invites us to experience. He invites us to dive into the abyss, and the water is fine.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||At the 2:58 mark here.|
|2.||↑||Cotter, Holland. Venice Biennale: Whose Reflection Do You See? New York Times. May 22, 2017.|
|3.||↑||Anagramming Hirst’s titles is a bit of a parlor game, here “Cif Amotan II” sorts out to “I am a fiction.” Or, I suppose, “I fit on a mica.”|
|4.||↑||From the exhibition guide, available here.|
|5, 6.||↑||Guide. 3.|
|7, 8.||↑||Guide. 36.|
|9.||↑||From the Tate’s display caption.|
|10.||↑||Ibid. It is just this sort of anonymous, obvious and just-so-slightly-condescending museum-speak that Hirst pokes at throughout the exhibition with captions of his own. For example, we are informed that a Roman spoon of the ligula type (which is not present) was “used for eating pulpy food.” That seems to be a reasonable deduction. The pitch-perfect and very amusing texts are credited to Aime Corry.|
|11.||↑||Chesterton’s biography of Blake is available here.|
|12.||↑||See A Little History of Castration, here, page 82.|
|13.||↑||Hirst’s exhibition shares much with the idiosyncratic Cosmos-builders of the New Museum’s recent exhibition, The Keeper. For a detailed note on recollecting forward, see this.|
|14.||↑||Nagel, A. and C. Wood. Anachronic Renaissance. New York: Zone. 9.|
|15.||↑||Rancière, Jacques. The Concept of Anachronism and the Historian’s Truth (English Translation). InPrint: Vol. 3: No. 1, Article 3. Available here.|
|16.||↑||Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton. 24. Freud was skeptical, indicating that this oceanic feeling is by no means universal.|
|17.||↑||Barb, A. A. Diva Matrix: A Faked Gnostic Intaglio in the Possession of P. P. Rubens and the Iconology of a Symbol. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 16, No. 3/4 (1953), 193-238.|
|21.||↑||Barb. 206. Venus’ shell would return as the pilgrim’s shell, a symbol, perhaps, of Christian rebirth.|
|24.||↑||Freud, Sigmund. Medusa’s Head (1922). Collected Papers. New York: Basic Books. 1959. Vol. 5, 105-106.|
|26.||↑||In fact, he calls this reading a “cheap cliché.” Barb. 201.|
|27.||↑||Ovid. Metamorphoses, in Ovid III, F. J. Miller, trans. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard. 230-31.|
|28.||↑||Guena, Elena. ‘The Coral Diver’ in Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable: Damien Hirst. London: Other Criteria. 2017. 10|
|29.||↑||For an art-historically definitive text on Medusa’s blood and coral see Michael Cole, “Cellini’s Blood.” in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 81, No. 2, June, 1999. 215-235. In this essay, Cole argues that the peculiar turgid blood pouring out of the head of Medusa in Cellini’s Perseus, in Florence, is, indeed, stylized coral.|