The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Infobox Painting|

title=The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
artist=Damien Hirst
type=Tiger shark, glass, steel, 5% formaldehyde solution
city=New York City
museum=Metropolitan Museum of Art

"The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" is an artwork by Damien Hirst (born June 7, 1965), an English artist and the leading artist of the "Young British Artists" (or YBA). It consists of a shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine. It was originally commissioned in 1991 by Charles Saatchi, who sold it in 2004, making Hirst the second most expensive living artist after Jasper Johns (he surpassed Johns in 2007). [Alberge, Dalya (2007) [ "Pills lift Hirst to top of art world's most expensive list"] , "The Times", 22 June 2007. Retrieved 22 June 2007.] Due to deterioration of the original convert|14|ft|adj=on tiger shark, it was replaced with a new specimen in 2006. It is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City until 2010. [ cite news | first = Roberta | last = Smith | title = Just When You Thought It Was Safe | url = | publisher = "The New York Times" | date = October 16, 2007 | accessdate = 2007-10-16]


The work was funded by Charles Saatchi, who in 1991 had offered to pay for whatever artwork Hirst wanted to create. The shark itself cost Hirst £6,000 and the total cost of the work was £50,000. [ "Saatchi mulls £6.25m shark offer",] BBC. Retrieved 23 February, 2007] The shark was caught by a fisherman commissioned to do so, in Australia. Hirst wanted something "big enough to eat you".Barber, Lynn [,,941324,00.html "Bleeding art"] , "The Observer", 20 April 2003. Retrieved 1 September 2007.]

It was first exhibited in 1992 in the first of a series of "Young British Artists" shows at the Saatchi Gallery, then at its premises in St John's Wood, North London. The British tabloid newspaper "The Sun" ran a story titled "£50,000 for fish without chips."Vogel, Carol [ "Swimming with famous dead sharks,2] "New York Times", 1 October, 2006. Retrieved 23 February, 2007] The show also included Hirst's artwork "A Thousand Years". He was then nominated for the Turner Prize, but it was awarded to Grenville Davey. Saatchi sold the work in 2004 to Steven A. Cohen for $8 million, second only to Jeff Koons for a living artist's work.

Its technical specifications are: "Tiger shark, glass, steel, 5% formaldehyde solution, 213 x 518 x 213 cm." [ [ "Damien Hirst",] The Artchive. Retrieved 23 February, 2007]

Decay and replacement

Because the shark was initially preserved poorly, it began to deteriorate and the surrounding liquid grew murky. Hirst attributes some of the decay to the fact that the Saatchi Gallery had added bleach to it. In 1993 the gallery gutted the shark and stretched its skin over a fiberglass mold, and Hirst commented, "It didn’t look as frightening ... You could tell it wasn’t real. It had no weight." When Hirst learned of Saatchi's impending sale of the work to Cohen, he offered to replace the shark, an operation which Cohen then funded, calling the expense "inconsequential" (the formaldehyde process alone cost around $100,000). Another shark was caught off Queensland (a female age about 25–30 years, equivalent to middle age) and shipped to Hirst in a 2 month journey. Oliver Crimmen, a scientist and fish curator at London's Natural History Museum, assisted with the preservation of the new specimen in 2006. This involved injecting formaldehyde into the body, as well as marinating it for a fortnight in a bath of 7% formalin solution, consisting of water and dissolved formaldehyde gas. The original 1991 vitrine was then used to house it.

A philosophical question was acknowledged by Hirst, as to whether the replacement shark meant that the result could still be considered the same artwork. He observed:


Hirst has made other works subsequently which also feature a preserved shark in formaldehyde in a vitrine. In September 2008, "The Kingdom", a tiger shark, sold at Hirst's Sotheby's auction, "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever", for £9.6 million (more than £3 million above its estimate).Akbar, Arifa. [ "A formaldehyde frenzy as buyers snap up Hirst works"] , "The Independent", 16 September 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2008.]


In a speech at the Royal Academy in 2004, Robert Hughes said that brush marks in the lace collar of a painting by Velázquez could be more radical than a shark "murkily disintegrating in its tank on the other side of the Thames". [Kennedy, Maev [,,1230221,00.html "Art market a 'cultural obscenity'"] , "The Guardian", 3 June 2004. Retrieved 1 September 2007.]

Hirst's response to those who said that anyone could have done this artwork was, "But you didn't, did you?".

In 2003, under the title "A Dead Shark Isn't Art", the Stuckism International Gallery exhibited a shark which had first been put on public display two years before Hirst's by Eddie Saunders in his Shoreditch shop, JD Electrical Supplies, and asked, "If Hirst’s shark is recognised as great art, then how come Eddie’s, which was on exhibition for two years beforehand, isn’t? Do we perhaps have here an undiscovered artist of genius, who got there first, or is it that a dead shark isn’t art at all?" [Alberge, Dalya. [ "Traditionalists mark shark attack on Hirst"] , "The Times", 10 April 2003. Retrieved 6 February 2008.] The Stuckists suggested that Hirst may have got the idea for his work from Saunders' shop display. [ "A Dead Shark Isn't Art" on the Stuckism International web site] Retrieved 21 September 2008]

Notes and references

External links

* [ Official Damien Hirst Website]
* [ Article pathology]
* [ Lego version] by the Little Artists

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