The Rise of the "Crypto-Relic"

05/15/2015 04:38 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016


In a piece entitled "Traces of the Holy: The contemporary art work as 'crypto-relic'" (TLS, 4/10/15), Matthew Bown makes the following comment,

"The art market today is a market in crypto-relics, no more, no less. The dithyrambs of the experts--as when the director of the Tate art museums, Sir Nicholas Serota describes art objects as 'symbols of optimism and renewal,' as 'objects of beauty and contemplation,' or as 'transgressive,' 'raw and tender, brazen and subtle'--recreate the alluring discourse, the promise of miraculous potential, that sustained the original Christian relics in the public imagination."

How better to describe Damien Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," the famed shark immersed in formaldehyde or Jeff Koons' "New Hoover Convertibles" which might be subtitled "what you see is what you get." Duchamp's "Fountain," with its R. Mutt signature, might as well have been a Kohler or Toto as it canonized the found object. But artists like Hirst and Koons have actually gone much further, in that the high demand almost requires an iconography. Religiosity always had something in common with romanticism to the extent it was predicated on a belief in the unseen. What would the Shroud of Turin be without a higher love? The absence of value and/or meaning acts like a vacuum that creates the significance of Brown's "crypto-relics." Everyone reads meaning into Chance, the main character of Jerzy Kosinski's Being There. But Chance is just an idiot savant, a tabula rasa on which others paint their wishes for transcendence. And "so it goes" as Vonnegut famously says in Slaughterhouse-Five. Those who don't keep the faith will say that the public is being Tartuffed.

"New Hoover Convertible" by Jeff Koons (1980)

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary art, politics and culture}