Artist Hirst’s iconic pickled shark is rotting
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) – Artist Damien Hirst’s iconic pickled
shark, part of the Britart sensation when it went on display in
the early 1990s, is rotting.
Hirst is in talks with the owner of the 1991 work, U.S.
hedge fund manager Steve Cohen who bought it less than two
years ago for what media said was 6.5 million pounds ($11.8
million), to replace the original specimen.
The work, called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in
the Mind of Something Living, 1991,” was originally
commissioned by British collector Charles Saatchi for 50,000
“When the shark was originally preserved 15 years ago, a
different technique was tried,” Science Ltd, the company run by
Hirst, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“With this technique, formaldehyde wasn’t injected into the
deep tissues like it was with all the other formaldehyde works
made before and after this,” it added.
“This process didn’t work and Damien has never been
satisfied with the look of this shark. He is currently in
discussion with Steve Cohen about refurbishing the work, though
nothing has been decided yet.”
According to The Art Newspaper the shark’s skin is showing
“considerable signs of wear and tear, and the shark itself has
The 41-year-old artist burst on to the British art scene in
the late 1980s and early 1990s, heading a movement of young
artists whose work was designed to shock as well as entertain.
He quickly became known as the unofficial leader of
“Britart,” a ground-breaking movement which won fame abroad
before it petered out in the late 1990s.
That did not stop the ArtReview publication from naming
Hirst as the most powerful person in the art world in 2005.
The prospect of replacing the pickled shark has raised
questions over whether the altered work would have the same
value as the original.
Art dealer Larry Gagosian told The Art Newspaper:
“The shark is a conceptual piece and to substitute a shark
of equal size and appearance, in my opinion, does not alter the
piece. Steve Cohen is very happy with the piece and is not
troubled at all with having to substitute it.”
According to reports, Hirst is currently working on more
works using formaldehyde, including a piece consisting of three
vitrines each containing a crucified carcass of a cow.