Memento Mori in Contemporary Art Theologies of Lament and Hope
This book explores how four contemporary artists—Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Robert Gober, and Damien Hirst—pursue the question of death through their fraught appropriations of Christian imagery. Each artist is shown to not only pose provocative theological questions, but also to question the abilities of theological speech to adequately address current attitudes to death.
When set within a broader theological context around the thought of death, Bacon’s works invite fresh readings of the New Testament’s narration of the betrayal of Christ, and Beuys’ works can be appreciated for the ways they evoke Resurrection to envision possible futures for Germany in the aftermath of war. Gober’s immaculate sculptures and installations serve to create alternative religious environments, and these places are both evocative of his Roman Catholic upbringing and virtually haunted by the ghosts of his excommunication from that past. Lastly and perhaps most problematically, Hirst has built his brand as an artist from making jokes about death.
By opening fresh arenas of dialogue and meaning-making in our society and culture today, the rich humanity of these artworks promises both renewed depths of meaning regarding our exit from this world as well as how we might live well within it for the time that we have. As such, it will be a vital resource for all scholars in Theology, the Visual Arts, Material Religion and Religious Studies.
Chapter 1. Introduction: Theologies of Death in Contemporary Art
Chapter 2. Love and Death: Francis Bacon’s Crucifixions
Chapter 3. Life after Death: Joseph Beuys’ Re-enchantment of Art
Chapter 4. Fearing Death: Robert Gober’s False Blasphemy
Chapter 5. Laughing at Death: The Grim Comedy of Damien Hirst
Chapter 6. Conclusion: Living Death
In their theologies and metaphysics, religions offer interpretations of problems that shape the human situation as religious thought understands it. In numbers that should not surprise us, but still do, some of the most interesting artists in the modern era have made a point of scrutinizing these problems, relying on religious imagery, narratives, and forms of experience to do so. Taylor Worley has selected four of them for careful scrutiny, leading readers through a perceptive and clearly written engagement with difficult art and variously tormented, angry, and haunted artists whose work demands a critical awareness of the relevance of religion for their creative provocations.
- David Morgan, Duke University, USA.
While talk of a spiritual dimension to art is commonplace, so too are protests against blasphemy in contemporary art. Basing his approach on a wealth of research, in this excitingly innovative work its author argues that Christians sometimes reach too easily for the latter label. Even notorious atheists such as Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst can unwittingly contribute to the appropriation of new insights into the significance of Christ’s death and our own. Far from being based on wishful thinking, Worley’s claims are supported by a thorough grounding in the aims of both art and theology which enables him to explain with other examples why some other artists (his selection includes Beuys, Gober, Ofili, Serrano, and Kiki Smith) are better at deepening the dialogue than others.
- David Brown, Emeritus Wardlaw Professor of Theology, Aesthetics and Culture at the University of St Andrews, UK.