In his extraordinary book, Disfiguring, Mark Taylor bursts into the marketplace of the contemporary artworld by bringing together the idea of the death of God with that of the death of art. In the artworld prices of Van Goghs, Monets, and Warhols go up and down; the glossy journals like Art in America chronicle these values discreetly and contain prospectuses for investments, whether in the form of actual advertising or in the pieces pushing the latest artist or style, or looking for hidden value in an old one. In this marketplace the death of God is also, it seems, old news, so that the attacks of the religious right on a Mapplethorpe or a Serrano should be considered from the standpoint of the marketplace: as interferences with the process of fundraising or the rise and fall of artistic reputations. Here, as Taylor points out, everything is "currency," both in the sense of what is contemporary and of what is the medium of exchange. Andy Warhol's images, apparently going on to infinity, of dollar bills, bring the two senses together nicely. To intervene in this apparently seamless web in which the business of art is transacted, Taylor proceeds by arguing that there is an implicit, sometimes explicit, theological dimension in the artworld itself, and that it is God's corpse that we smell in the Museum of Modern Art, or Soho, or in the pages of October. The death of art, which is sometimes rumored in these places (not that it could ever interfere with business), will tum out to be part of God's prolonged death agony and decomposition.
Copyright © 1994 Philosophy Today. This article first appeared in Philosophy Today 38, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 326-33. doi:10.5840/philtoday199438319.
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Shapiro, Gary. "Go Figure!" Philosophy Today 38, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 326-33. doi:10.5840/philtoday199438319.