The physical inevitability of death in the mind of someone living

A bit of delicious art news: Damien Hirst’s iconic piece The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living (1991), which consists of a shark suspended in a tank of greenish formaldehyde, is rotten. Well, not exactly, quote: “The animal suspended in formaldehyde has deteriorated dramatically to the naked eye since it was first unveiled at the Saatchi Gallery in 1992 because of the way it was preserved by the artist. The solution which surrounds it is murky, the skin of the animal is showing considerable signs of wear and tear, and the shark itself has changed shape.” So essentially the shark is rotting. Perfect irony considering the title of the piece don’tcha think? The piece sold in late 2004 for £6.5m, one of the highest prices ever paid for a work by “someone living.” Hirst is evidently in talks with the buyer to replace the shark. The dealer Larry Gagosian said: “The shark is a conceptual piece and to substitute a shark of equal size and appearance, in my opinion, does not alter the piece.” I agree with him, though what the truth of such a statement really portends for the value of a piece of art…

07.03. filed under: art. !.


I like Hirst, but I’m still angry with myself for allowing him to fleece 10£ from me for a half-pint of lager and a small bag of stale tortilla chips at his concept restaurant in Notting Hill, Pharmacy.

posted on 07.03 at 10:22 AMMrBaliHai


I’ve always wondered how an artists clue themselves up on the technicalities of their projects. Who do you consult about suspending a shark in formaldehide, or building a collosal statue of a starving African out of cheeseburgers and WTO shredded documents? I guess now I know: nobody.

If it’s a conceptual piece wouldn’t it be enough to just replace the installation with a sign describing it?

posted on 07.03 at 10:47 AMPierce


@Mrb: the “concept” restaurant whose contents were sold for 11.1 Million you mean? Everyone who came in ought to have gotten a half-pint on the house if you ask me.

@Pierce: The article mentions: “Oliver Crimmen, curator of fish at the Natural History Museum who advised Hirst on the necessary measures to be taken for the conservation of the shark in 1991, said the long-term preservation of large specimens for scientific purposes requires an alcohol-based solution rather than formaldehyde.” to which the Arteest had this to say: “They actually thought I was using formaldehyde to preserve an artwork for posterity, when in reality I use it to communicate an idea.”

Seems to me he could have taken Crimmen’s advice, made a piece that wouldn’t totally degenerate, and simply told everyone it was formaldehyde… it being “conceptual” and all.

posted on 07.03 at 03:02 PMjmorrison


I read the article after posting (I find being uninformed when commenting makes me sharper. Everyone’s doing it), and that sentence was the one that jumped out at me. I’m generally very tolerant of modern art, but I’m having trouble seeing how using alcohol or a stronger formaldehyde solution would affect the communication of the idea. It’s completely absurd. The art isn’t independant of the medium, obviously. Pretend it is and all you have is the idea. Why bother with the physical implementation if you’re not going to actually do it properly? Argh.

Unless there’s a whole meaning I’m missing here. Maybe it was meant to rot and the implications are going right over us plebs.

posted on 07.03 at 03:27 PMPierce


Yes, *that* restaurant. The interior design was actually pretty cool, but the food was horrible. I have to think it was intentional.

posted on 07.03 at 05:10 PMMrBaliHai


Ohoho! For some reason I didn’t see this post til now. Memo to MrBaliHai: Be grateful they didn’t serve you Shark in Formaldehyde Soup.

How’s this for a shitty art project: you make a universe out of matter whose elementary particles decay after a mere (1 x 10 to the 200th power) years, or asankheya kalpas, whichever comes first. You trap all the art lovers inside it, making sure they know they will be annihilated along with the concept piece. Then, just to really stir the pot, you give them Sex, but then send out Priests to make them feel guilty about it. Oh, and you let one of them invent television.

posted on 07.06 at 06:57 PM.

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