Damien Hirst’s infamous diamond-studded skull – the world’s most expensive piece of contemporary art – will be displayed in London for the first time since 2007, when it was reportedly sold for a hefty £50m.
The piece, entitled ‘For the Love of God,’ will sit pretty in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall next year in the first UK survey show devoted to the 46-year-old artist. It will join 70 other pieces as part of a major retrospective of Hirst’s work, including a pickled shark (‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’) and a double-act in the form of a cow and her calf suspended in formaldehyde (‘Mother and Child Divided’). Needless to say, its not for the squeamish.
The skull itself is cast in platinum but retains the original teeth of the 18th century owner, and boasts 8,601 flawless diamonds. A 52.4 carat pink diamond sits on the skull’s forehead. The piece was recently scheduled to embark on a world tour, but was, according to the director of Hirst’s company, Science, cancelled due to fears the bling-tastic skull would look ‘inappropriate’ in the current financial climate.
Chris Dercon, Tate Modern's director, said of the exhibition: ‘You will be able to see the skull in a completely different context, without the hype and speculation. We all think we know this work through the media. But if you are actually with the work, and can experience it, smell it, and I shouldn't say this, but touch it – it will be very different.’
The last time the capital got so worked up about Hirst was when he put 200 of his works under the hammer at Sotheby’s in 2008. Then the best bargain one could hope for was a £15,000 for the contents of an ashtray.
The exhibition, sponsored by the Qatar Museums Authority, will be running at the Tate Modern from 4 April to 9 September next year. The For the Love of God piece will be free to view in the Turbine Hall for the first 12 weeks. You probably won't be able to touch it.
By Rachel Clark