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The Taste for the Macabre in Today's Art

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

Today let us look at items from two recent exhibits, one proposing to be art and the other science, to see how the taste for the macabre and the appetite for the perverse are being stimulated in modern man.
Hirst standing by his decapitated cow head art

Hirst stands before his so-called art work that features a decomposing cow's head

Point de Vue, February 25, 2005
The first picture is taken from a feature article on British “artist” Damien Hirst in a December issue of Point de Vue, a magazine catering to those who follow the nobility and the latest cultural news. It shows a picture of the disheveled Hirst standing in front of one of his most famous “art pieces.” In the enclosed glass case is a rotting cow’s head complete with maggots, newly-hatched bluebottle flies, and an “insectocutor” to electrocute them. Hirst calls it the art of decomposition, and says his intent is to make viewers think about how they and society look at death. Other pieces in his exhibit show sheep, pigs, and calves in various states of dismemberment, or suspended whole in formaldehyde in glass boxes.

That the world of culture could consider a head of an animal in decomposition as art is, in my opinion, disgusting and reflects an accentuated moral decadence. Making something like this does not demand any artistic talent. It is just a work of maggots, which should be kept out of our sight as well as smell. Civilized people bury or burn dead animals precisely to keep the putrid and disease laden bodies away from society. No one wants to see the head of a dead cow, which can be found in the garbage of a meat factory. It is a degradation of art to allow this revolting manifestation of the disgusting and the grotesque.

It also demonstrates the extreme decadence of the British elite, who are paying millions of dollars for the art of this macabre charlatan and giving him awards. Also, it shows how subservient the media has become to this kind of idiocy that pays tribute to horror. Point de Vue did not present one single serious criticism of its own about this stupid exposition. On the contrary, it dedicated six pages and eight large photos to it, giving its implicit approval and outright promotion. What is certain is that we are witnessing the death of the French good taste. Also, the death of the acerbic French critique – as dead as the severed cow’s head. French journalism, proud in days past of its cutting insolence and terse rational judgment, has become a sad and silly slave of the fashion dictators promoting the horrendous.

With the second picture, we cross the boundaries of the ghastly to the blasphemous.

A cross section of a cadaver displayed at the Body Works exhibit

A display of a "slice" of an obese human body at the Body Works exhibit

Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2005
A youth in her teens cannot hide her expression of dismay as she stands before a case with a human body dissected lengthwise. She is one of viewers of the Body Worlds exhibit at the Los Angeles Science Center. In the showcase is a “slice” of a real human body, a 330-pound-cadaver of a 50-year-old man. The pretext for such exhibit is that the viewers can observe and study the thick layer of fat around the midsection and vital organs.

The Body Worlds exhibit, put together by the German “scientist” Gunther Von Hagen, displays more than 200 “specimens” – all of them actual human bodies, organs, parts, or slices. These were real people, who donated their bodies for scientific purposes. Von Hagen “plastinated” them, that is, he preserved the body by replacing fluids with a type of clear, pliable plastic that preserves the bodies and leaves them mobile. The bodies are arranged to stimulate activities people might have performed in life: a youth playing basketball, a plasticized pregnant woman with her child in her womb, a man at the computer, an ice-skating couple juxtaposing the male and female forms.

In Europe, Von Hagen’s Body Works Exhibit was called crass, pornographic, and borderline psychotic. In Germany, only Frankfurt would grant permission for a showing, the other cities refusing on grounds it was immoral and a desecration of the human body. Disgruntled, Von Hagen came to Los Angeles for an exhibition running from June 2004 to March 2005. The Californian media and dictators of fashion are doing all they can to spread the news that visiting the exhibit for “educational purposes” is the “in” thing to do. Many, many people, especially the young, are falling into the trap.

What is being promoted is the desecration of the human body, and again, we have an imposition of the grotesque and horrendous. The human body is an image of God, a temple of the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul calls it. It will be resurrected to be united with the soul at the Final Judgment for eternity. For that reason it is accorded a great reverence and respect.

Obviously, students at a school of medicine should study the human body for scientific purposes. But it is absurd, in my opinion, to expose human bodies like this and present them in ridiculous or grotesque positions to the general public as it is being done in Los Angeles. The Body Works display is an exhibit of disrespect, desecration, and blasphemy that promotes sadism and even more macabre things.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with it. Or perhaps he is too busy preparing his settlement regarding the pedophilia abuses by the clergy in his Archdiocese to speak out against this outrage.

I close with my strong personal protest against the Body Works exhibit. I encourage other Catholics to do the same, and as far as they can, to boycott this exposition and prevent it from being displayed in any other city in our country.


Posted September 13, 2005

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