Memento Mori in Contemporary Art : Theologies of Lament and Hope book cover
1st Edition

Memento Mori in Contemporary Art
Theologies of Lament and Hope

ISBN 9780367029562
Published December 5, 2019 by Routledge
250 Pages

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

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

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Taylor Worley is Associate Professor of Faith and Culture at Trinity International University, USA. His scholarly projects center on theological explorations in the visual arts and film. He has co-edited three books including, Contemporary Art and the Church (2017), Dreams, Doubt, and Dread (2016) and Theology, Aesthetics, and Culture (2012).


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.