08.31.11

Controversial Contemporary Tattoos

Artist Damien Hirst designed a tattoo for one woman’s vagina for a photo spread in the new Garage magazine. See exclusive (NSFW) pictures of tattoos by contemporary artists from John Baldessari to Jeff Koons. By Isabel Wilkinson.

Hanging a Damien Hirst painting on your wall—or visiting it in a museum—is one thing. Getting a Hirst tattoo on your vagina is quite another. But that’s what 23-year-old Shauna Taylor did when she agreed to get a butterfly tattoo from the artist on her crotch for a spread in Garage magazine, the new art and fashion bible from art collector (and former Pop magazine editor) Dasha Zhukova, which hits newsstands next week.

The black-and-white image appears on the cover of the magazine—with a butterfly sticker hiding Taylor’s tattoo. “Peel slowly and see,” it reads. Inside, a photo spread titled “Inked” has been making headlines for its controversial subject matter: well-known contemporary artists including Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, and John Baldessari designed tattoos for a series of “willing canvases”—an assortment of young men and women who were recruited for the project. They gathered in Los Angeles to be photographed by Hedi Slimane, former designer of Yves Saint Laurent and Dior Homme. The result is a series of expressive black-and-white portraits of the sitters and their tattoos. Prince’s signature smiley face was tattooed on Conrad Lochner, a 31-year-old from New York. AJ English, a 24-year-old model living in L.A., got a Raymond Pettibon on his bicep. Leaf Chang, 30, received a Jeff Koons tattoo across his chest—and artist Dinos Chapman tattooed his own right arm with the text “I’m With This Idiot.”

The project raises questions about the permanency of contemporary art. “What are they worth? Something more than the skin on their backs?” asks Garage’s Becky Poostchi. In an art market so volatile that one year a blue-chip artist can run cold, committing to a tattoo from a “hot” artist seems like the ultimate investment. The sketches for the tattoos (which were given to tattoo artists in London, Los Angeles, and New York) are now themselves valuable works of art; many are now the property of the Gagosian Gallery. Slimane’s photographs in Garage are highly artistic—but they also serve as documentation for a project that is, despite its permanency, entirely fleeting. After all, Taylor’s going to pull up her pants, Lochner’s going to put on his shirt—and the public will never see these pieces of art again.

Garage Magazine’s Tattoo Spread

Would you want a tattoo by a famous contemporary artist? For Taylor, the answer was a definite yes. “I would have been stupid not to be part of this project,” she said, explaining: “I have a piece of art on my vagina. Not one single person can ever say they gave birth through a Damien Hirst piece of art. I can [if I ever give birth].” And it’s clear she’s proud of her new acquisition: Taylor reportedly showed the tattoo to Hirst after the work was done—and then promptly threw a garden party to celebrate it. 

Garage is available at select newsstands on Sept. 5 and will retail for $19.99.