What in the world could possibly connect the latest Hollywood summer blockbuster and the most expensive work of art, if you must call it that, by a living artist?
Indiana Jones is every socially inept, engineering degree-holding, Linux-installing, high-school quizzing geek’s dream role model. His thrilling adventures revolve around mysterious historical oddities, the sort of things we all secretly hoped for while borrowing old library books or rummaging in the attic at home. “Please, let there be a treasure map in there somewhere, god…” we prayed silently, only to unearth a yellowing old picture of dad in a huge afro and giant Ray-Bans. We were scarred for life.
In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 19 years after his last adventure, an older—but no less spunky—Indi will battle Soviet secret agents to win back the mysterious Crystal Skull of Akator. Mastery over the skull’s powers will give the owner limitless power. Will the Soviets win the skull and subsequently, the Cold War? Or will Indiana Jones doff that hat, crack that whip and save the world?
But, if you thought Indiana Jones was all fictional make-believe, then I have news for you: Crystal skulls exist.
In the late 19th century, the antiques world was rife with news of mysterious crystal skulls supposedly found in ancient Mayan and Aztec locations in South America. Some said they were instruments of death, used in arcane Mayan rituals.
Many of these mysterious skulls were sold by French antique dealer Eugéne Boban, who had a keen eye for antiques and suckers thereof. From his shady Mexico City set-up, Boban dispatched skulls to the British Museum in London and the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. He claimed they had been found in ancient excavation sites. Antique nuts and paranormal psychos lapped it up.
In time, however, several modern studies discredited any Mayan or Aztec authenticity. It now seems highly unlikely that the skulls were anything but imitations.
Years later, John LeKay, a conceptual and installation artist of English provenance, was greatly inspired by these Mayan skulls and, in 1993, decided to make some of his own. But, instead of large blocks of crystal, he used the slightly cheaper medium: toilet deodorizer paradichlorobenzene embellished with soap, wax and artificial diamonds. LeKay managed to sell his works for around $2,500 (around Rs1 lakh) each.
At the time, LeKay was friends with another artist. But their friendship did not last very long and, sometime in 1994, Damien Hirst moved on in life to do his own thing.
Imagine LeKay’s shock when, in 2007, Hirst, by then an art celebrity, unveiled a platinum cast skull encrusted with more than 8,000 diamonds and human teeth. The sculpture, called For the Love of God, cost approximately £14 million (around Rs112 crore, now) to make, and Hirst put it up for sale for £50 million.
That stiff price made it the most expensive piece by a living artist. Providing somebody bought it. Hirst insists that someone has. Everyone else thought he was bluffing. We will never know.
As for poor John LeKay, he believes he was ripped off. Who will solve the enduring mysteries of these shiny skulls?
I know just the man for the job.
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